Women’s groups call on Malaysian authorities to raise the legal marriage age to 18
Malaysian women’s rights groups are calling on authorities to raise the legal marriage age to 18, to protect young girls.
The issue of child marriage is again a focus in Malaysia after a court sentenced a man to 12 years’ jail for raping a 12-year-old girl and then marrying her.
The district court in the eastern state of Sabah ruled that while the marriage was valid, the man had committed rape.
Suri Kempe from Sisters in Islam in Kuala Lumpur has told Radio Australia’s Asia Pacific at least one big case a year makes headlines in Malaysia, but the problem is much bigger.
“It’s a growing problem and while we like to see this as an isolated case I think there’s actually more to it than we like to let on,” she said.
“What we really want is for the authorities to increase the minimum age of marriage to 18.”
She says child marriage happens in both urban and rural areas in Malaysia, “and unsurprisingly it’s also a class issue” with predominantly lower income families involved.
The marriage of young children is not regulated by federal law, but through different jurisdictions depending on the area.
Ms Kempe says in the case of Muslims, the Sharia courts grant permission.
For non-Muslims permission is sought from a state’s chief minister, while for the indigenous residents of Sarawak permission is sought from their longhouse chief.
“In the Sharia court, there’s not really a set standard,” Ms Kempe said.
“(An application for marriage) is often on the pretext of the children probably having had sex or where the girl is pregnant and in order to save face for the family, the parents want to get their children married off.”
Ms Kempe says census data from 2000 showed more than 6,800 girls under the age of 15 were married.
By 2010, that figure had risen to 16,000 girls.
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