Sisters In Islam Press Statement On Child Marriage
Sisters in Islam (SIS) expresses its utmost concern over news reports of a 14-year-old child married off to an adult man in July this year.
This only came to light when the childand the man who married her participated in a mass wedding celebration at theFederal Territory Mosque on 4th December 2010, wherecouples were given RM1,000 and Minister in the Prime Minister’s DepartmentDatuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom was in attendance as guest of honour.
SIS reiterates itsstand in calling for the Government to end child marriage and raise the minimumage of marriage to 18 years for all Malaysians. We note that the recent case isonly the latest in a series of cases of child marriage, and follows a decisionby the Malacca Islamic Religious Council to relax the conditions for Muslimgirls under the age of 16 and Muslim boys under the age of 18 to marry. Manymore cases of child marriage go unreported. According to a statement by DeputyWomen, Family and Community Development Minister Heng Seai Kie in October,16,000 girls aged below 15 in the country are married.
That the practice ofchild marriage continues to exist in Malaysia, often feted as a modelMuslim-majority nation, should have prompted emphatic action by the authoritiesto address individual cases and more generally the root causes of childmarriage. While we applaud Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil’s long-standingcondemnation of child marriage, we deplore statements by other governmentofficials and religious authorities giving tacit approval to the practice or passingoff responsibility to the Syariah Court to determine its “permissibility”. Nomarriage of a minor child can be deemed acceptable.
The onset of pubertyis no indication of sufficient maturity for marriage. While the Qur'an does notstate a specific age as the age of marriage, Surah an-Nisa' 4:6 requires thatwhen orphans reach the “age of marriage” or “a marriageable age” they can betested for “sound judgment” or “maturity of mind”. This indicates that amarriageable age is linked to soundness of judgment and maturity of mind. Achild below the age of 18 cannot be said to have the life experience necessaryto assume marriage responsibilities. There is no sound reason why her familyand her intended groom cannot wait until she reaches the age of majority beforeasking for her consent to marry.
We note thatMuslim-majority countries globally are taking steps to address child marriageas a problem. A man was jailed in Indonesia for sexually abusing a minor afterhe married a 12-year-old girl, and even Saudi authorities are mulling over aban on child marriage. These follow the example of other Muslim countriesdespite opposition from conservatives, mindful that studies on child marriagepoint to harm suffered by children, particularly girls: the loss of childhoodand adolescence, the denial of freedom and personal development, difficulty inaccessing education, health problems due to early pregnancies, and abuse.
Finally, SIS furthercalls on all levels of governance and religious authority to respect and implementthe Child Act 2001, and honour Malaysia’s commitments in ratifying theConvention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women(CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
SeniorProgramme Officer for Media and Communications