The Tasek Gelugor Member of Parliament Shabudin Yahaya remains bent on painting the DAP as an anti-Islam party, as he struggles desperately to defend his stand on ‘children as young as 9 years old can marry’ and ‘rapists can marry their victims’. His insistence on being right on a statement he made that is so fundamentally flawed is unsettling. To think that leaders among us are justifying criminal behaviours that promote suffering, child abuse and the objectification of women to such degrading lengths is something that must be addressed.
If the proposal to ban child marriages is anti-Islam, then Shabudin ought reflect and ask himself if the Barisan Nasional government has been anti-Islam all along. This is because in 2013, the Barisan Nasional government adopted a United Nations resolution to end child marriage.
The laws of a nation have to evolve with time. Today, Muslim-majority countries like Egypt, Algeria and Morocco have amended their laws to make the legal age of marriage to 18 for both girls and boys; why are we unable to make this evolutionary leap?
According to the Population and Housing Census of Malaysia 2000, child marriage affects 6,800 girls below the age of 15, and 4,600 boys in the same age group. A detailed breakdown by race indicates there were 2,450 Malays, 1,550 Orang Asli, 1,600 Chinese, 600 Indians, and 600 children of other races involved in child marriages.
The next censuses which followed did not detail the numbers pertaining to child marriages. Nevertheless in 2010, a report by the United Nations pointed out that there were 82,000 teenagers between the age of 15 and 19 who are married. In the same year, the Deputy Minister of Women, Family, and Community Development revealed there were 16,000 girls below the age of 15 who were married.
Clearly, the issue at hand is not on child marriages involving a single race or a single religion but on the problems faced by the affected children today, and in the future. Why can’t discussions be centered on the welfare of these children; focusing rationally on the pros and cons of child marriages?
On December 19 last year, Malaysia was part of the United Nations General Assembly which adopted the 2nd resolution on Child, Early and Forced Marriage.
The Resolution calls for enactment and enforcement of laws and policies aimed at preventing and ending child, early and forced marriage.
This resolution stands out from others by focusing on the specific roles and responsibilities of Member States in working towards a world free of CEFM at all levels.
The resolution also asks that Governments include an update on their progress towards ending CEFM in their national reports to international treaty bodies, in the universal periodic review, and in national voluntary reviews conducted through the High-Level Political Forum (HLFP) on sustainable development. The next HLPF is in July 2017.
Malaysia adopted it without objections. So if Shabudin remains insistent on the label of anti-Islam or ‘a critique of Islam’, then I suggest he call out the Barisan Nasional government led by Najib Razak.
Nonetheless, on the issue of ending child marriage, I wholeheartedly support the Najib government, and will continue to press them to realize the promise made during the United Nations General Assembly.