In the last five years, cases of child marriage in Malaysia have been increasing. It’s not something to be proud of as Malaysians.
Back in 2012, as many as 1,022 of marriage applications occurred where one party is a minor. In between 2013 and 2017, Shariah courts have allowed 5,362 applications for Muslim child marriage. For non-Muslims, the tally is 968 in 2017.
Just recently an 11-year-old Thai girl ‘married’ a 41-year-old man from Gua Musang. Without a doubt, it has raised Malaysia to another round of ‘global fame’.
The New York Times, for instance, stories this incident. In their report, mentioned is the current status of the law of child marriage in Malaysia. “One legislator from [Barisan Nasional], who had also served as a Shariah court judge, said a 9-year-old girl could be marriageable if she had gone through puberty.”
This case sparked timely debate on child marriage. It pivots children’s rights to the focal point of our country.
Religion-based v. Rights-based
As we all (should) know, Malaysia is—directly or not—an Islamic country. And in Islam, marriage is essentially a ‘contract’. In the Islamic law, as long as a child passes puberty, they are allowed to marry—or ‘be married’.
It is my firm belief, however, that religion should not be the primary ground to justify this controversial ‘custom’. Critical considerations of ‘rights’ should weigh more in assessing this act by putting forth the wellbeing of a child.
Even with parental ‘consent’ and religious ‘blessing’ to a child for marrying, let’s imagine the consequences that this child might face.
After marriage the responsibilities are demanding. It is thus morally wrong to even impose this burden on children. This is not to say ‘children are incapable of maturity’. But marriage at a young age should not be the way to challenge their ‘means’ of living.
Putting them in this situation would undoubtedly shake their core self-belief, and possibly lead to adverse and irreversible ‘snowball’ effects on life.
The mentality of any married children would have to be gravely stronger than that of their counterparts. This is because an ‘adult mentality’ becomes an immediate goal at an age younger than usual. These children will have to hold accountable, listen to, and fulfil their spouses’ wants.
In addition to their mental state, the social welfare of the child has to be in control where they are unable to have a normal leisure time as the other children.
It can thus also have an impact on their physical health.
Instead of a religious basis, children’s upbringing has to be a priority for a society: a child should be able to grow up in an environment conducive for learning various soft and hard skills of life before the arrival of a so-called ‘adult world’. All they—girls, in fact—should actually have, at such young age, is to intensively develop as a thinking being through a healthy childhood.
And those conservatives
Well, surely there are other factors perpetuating child marriage in many parts of the world. Poverty is one enduring cause. However, the thread across sexual impropriety, male privilege, and religious conservatism allows for the recurring of child marriage in Malaysia.
The Islamic ‘practice’ of child marriage is unsettlingly common in Malaysia. This concerns the welfare of the children.
If one would want to provide ‘aids’ or ‘help’ in various situations to children, such as financial and educational support, child marriage should not be it. Primarily in Malaysia, one of the five strategic goals from UNICEF’s Gender Action Plan (2018-2021) is to protect children from violence and exploitation, including child marriage. Why don’t we simply support social policies as this?
As we delve deeper into this issue, it turns out quite ironic to see people actually embracing child marriage as social norm. The future of our children would be at risk, if the mind-set of ‘closing one eye’ towards these cases prevails.
“Sabah Mufti wants marriage age reduced to 14 for girls.”—Malay Mail
Long story short, it raises many questions to simply use religion as a mask to satisfy the paedophilic tendencies to marrying a child. Our rejection of child marriage must go beyond just the consensus of an Islamic group.
I say ‘NO’ to child marriage, simply because girls are never born to be brides a lifetime. #ChildNOTBride
Written by Ungku Luqman Arifin
Featured image from The Star.
DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and they do not necessarily reflect the position of UNMC IGNITE.