Timely and courageous for Sabah cabinet to set minimum age of marriage at 18, a bold step closer to reduce child marriages with the eventuality to eliminating it in the state

The news that the Sabah state government made a decision on the minimum age limit for marriage in the state comes as a timely Chinese New Year gift for all children, not only in Sabah but throughout the nation as a spill over effect is hoped for to safeguard the rights of children to live their lives as children with equal opportunities to dream, study, play and to be torchbearers for our new Malaysia.

This momentous and significant decision will not be possible without concerted effort driven by Sabah Law and Native Affairs Assistant Minister Jannie Lasimbang and her team of likeminded lawmakers, judges, civil society, customary chiefs, native chiefs and village heads to be guardians of children, galvanizing their authority, knowledge, experience and power to work together to reduce the number of child brides and grooms in the state.

This Chinese New Year Malaysians welcome and embrace this heroic decision and hope for the land below the wind to rise above itself to read and execute provisions in Civil Laws, Syariah Laws and Native Customary Laws in harmony with each other to reduce marriages of children below the age of 18, as a stepping stone to eliminating it one day in the near future.

In the same vein, it is of great urgency for religious leaders of all states to address the rights, position and role of children in our society as the future of Malaysia, even more as Malaysia holds her head high as Malaysia remains a steadfast signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Nations that have high numbers of child marriages often fair poorly economically and worse of where social justice is concerned.

A recent study conducted by the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) and the World Bank (Wodon, et al., 2017) estimates that a reduction in child marriage would go hand in hand with a decline in fertility and population growth rates, leading to an increase in the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in countries where child marriage is common.

As a signatory to commit itself to United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, it is critical that the Government analyses the monetary gains it will enjoy if child marriages are significantly reduced and ended amounting up to “trillions of dollars between now and 2030 globally” (Wodon, et al., 2017, p. 10), which will in return can used to fund long-term development projects and programmes for our children.

Research also suggest that girls from the poorest quintile or the poorest 20% are more likely married off compared to girls who belong to the 20% of the richest portion. This of course does not discount the fact that child marriages also exist in richer families where girls of ‘higher’ socio-economic status also face a higher risk being married off earlier.

This rings true not only in Sabah but all over the country where poverty and a lack of awareness and education remain drivers to child marriages. But with consolidated efforts between all parties, child marriages will soon be a thing of the past not only in Malaysia but the region as well.

Well done Sabah! BRAVO!

Kasthuri Patto
DAP WANITA INTERNATIONAL SECRETARY, member of the Parliamentary Special Select Committee on Rights and Gender Equality & MP FOR BATU KAWAN
Media statement by Kasthuri Patto in Batu Kawan on Wednesday, 6th February 2018