The Women, Family and Community Development Ministry has expressed concern over the marriage of a 14-year-old girl to a 23-year-old man in Malaysia
Minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil said 14 was too young, and someone that age would not be able to live up to the expectations of such an institution.
“A marriage is not just about having a wedding. It is more than that. At 14, one is too young to understand what marriage is all about. There is responsibility and a lifetime of commitment, as a wife, and later on as a parent. The syariah court must be more cautious when granting approvals in such cases,” she said when contacted.
The New Sunday Times had front-paged the picture of 14-year-old Siti Marham Mahmod, and husband Abdul Manan Othman, who participated in a 1Malaysia wedding celebration at the Federal Territory Mosque on Satueday.
The couple had tied the knot in July after getting the consent of the Syariah Court.
The couple’s union has also sparked concern among women’s organisations who have called on the government to address irregularities in the Child Act 2001 and the civil and Islamic family laws if it was serious in preventing child marriages.
Women’s Aid Organisation executive director Ivy Josiah said the government should amend both the civil and Islamic family laws and set the minimum age for marriageability at 18 years for both genders. “There must be no exceptions,” said Josiah.
Under civil law, girls between 16 and 18 years old can marry, but it must be endorsed by the menteri besar or chief minister.
The minimum age under the Islamic Family Laws is 18 for men and 16 for women. However, the law also allows those younger to marry but with permission from the syariah judge under special circumstances.
“The Child Act 2001 defines that anyone under 18 years old is a child. We must stop using culture or religion as an excuse if the government is serious about protecting children from child marriages,” she said.
Empower Malaysia’s executive director Maria Chin Abdullah said permitting child marriages contravened the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which the government had an obligation to uphold.
“Why be a part of the CRC or CEDAW if we are going to do things differently? Marriage is too big a commitment for a 14-year-old,” she said.
Maria said an early marriage would force the child to go straight into adulthood and enter a union, depriving him or her of a complete intellectual and emotional development.
Women in Action Malacca (WIM) president Rachel Samuel said it was unlikely a child understood what a marriage entailed when even adults needed time to adjust to being married.
“Those who are married and studying in universities, for example, see how different their lifestyles are compared to their single peers. It will be very tough for a child to juggle between being a wife and having to attend school, and later becoming a mother at an early age,” she said.
Samuel was all for raising the minimum age to 18, to enable a child to get the basic education and some experiences which will better prepare him or her for married life.