Women’s groups in Malaysia are lobbying the country’s government to make child marriages illegal and raise the minimum age for marriage to 18
Under Malaysian law, Muslim couples wanting to marry must first be tested for the HIV virus.
Ivy Josiah from Malaysia’s Women’s Aid Organisation, says it is this examination that alerted women’s groups to the number of under-age girls getting married.
“There was, shockingly, 32 girls under 10 years of age (who) undertook the premarital HIV test in 2009,” she told Radio Australia’s Asia Pacific program. “In the 15-19 year old group, 1,911 boys and 6,815 girls were tested.
“This is not right, even though it’s allowed for in the Islamic shariah law.”
The organisation recently established Malaysia’s first “baby hatch” to accept abandoned infants, following an increase in the number of reported cases of babies being abandoned.
Datuk Haji Harusanni Zakaria, Head of the Mufti Council in Perak state, says he understands why Malacca’s Islamic Religious Council decided to relax conditions for young Muslim girls to marry.
“This is according to our religion, this is to save her and the child.”
But Yasmin Masidi, of the Sisters of Islam, says the move is a kneejerk reaction to what is primarily a health and education issue.
She said: “I think it’s necessary to understand there is already a clause within shariah law in Malaysia that allows Muslim girls under the age of 16 and Muslim boys under the age of 18 to marry but with the permission of the Shariah Court.
“What the Malaccan Islamic Council did was to relax the conditions for these minors to marry.
“As far as Sisters of Islam is concerned, we feel the absolute minimum age to marry is 18 years . . . Our position really is that in the Koran, marriageable age is linked to sound judgement and maturity of mind. Puberty alone is really not sufficient.”
The Malaysian Government has issued a statement saying under-age marriage is morally and socially unacceptable.
While it says child marriages should not be encouraged as they are detrimental to the development and wellbeing of the child, the government has so far refused to change the law.
Women’s groups say the law contravenes UN human rights treaties ratified by Malaysia.