After ‘Suami Aku Ustaz’ roasted, women groups state disapproval of child marriages

The film was adapted from a best-selling novel Malay-language novel of the same title penned by Hannah Dhaniyah.
The film was adapted from a best-selling novel Malay-language novel of the same title penned by Hannah Dhaniyah.

KUALA LUMPUR, May 20 — Criticism against a local movie that allegedly condones child marriage has prompted women’s groups to reaffirm their rejection of marriages involving minors.

Contacted over the growing controversy over movie “Suami Aku Ustaz” (My Husband is a Religious Teacher), Sisters In Islam (SIS)’s executive director Ratna Osman said the Muslim women’s advocacy group is consistently opposed to marriages involving minors.

The movie in question is said to depict the tale of a 17-year-old student who is married off by her parents to her cousin, who is also a religious teacher in her school.

“Our stand has always been that we are against child marriages. The current law allows for Muslims girls to marry at 16 and even younger with the permission of a Shariah judge,” she told Malay Mail Online yesterday evening.

Ratna said SIS has been pushing for legal reforms that would make the minimum age of marriage in Malaysia 18 for both genders without exception.

Sumitra Visvanathan, executive director of Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), said child marriages remain legal in Malaysia despite its possible consequences.

“Child marriage has been shown to be harmful towards the girl child who is wedded — not least because it increases the risk of domestic violence.

“Yet, in Malaysia, it is still legal for a Muslim girl as young as 16 to be married. Applications can also be made so that girls and boys not legally old enough can be married. Each year, more than a thousand such applications are approved,” she said in a written response to Malay Mail Online yesterday evening.

“Any attempt to romanticise child marriage is disgraceful. It is also against the international safeguards to which Malaysia subscribes, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW),” she added.

A partial screengrab of Low’s Facebook post.
A partial screengrab of Low’s Facebook post.

Both SIS and WAO have yet to view the movie, and were stating their stand on child marriages in general.

The fresh controversy was prompted by a review of the movie by sex educator June Low that she posted on Facebook, in which she is critical of its positive portrayal of child marriage and those who partake in the practice.

“Its main objective appears to be to put child marriages in good light, showing ‘a good side’ to the buffet of statutory rape that has become a staple in the news,” she wrote in the lengthy public post which has since garnered 1,158 shares at the time of publishing, while some Internet users have similarly panned the movie for allegedly romanticising child marriages.

In Malaysia, Islamic laws allow Muslim boys below the legal marrying age of 18 and Muslim girls below the age of 16 to marry, but requires consent from the Shariah Court that is granted on a case-by-case basis.

The legal marrying age under civil laws in Malaysia for both genders is 18, but exemptions allow girls aged between 16 and 18 to marry if the consent of the state’s chief minister or mentri besar is obtained.

According to the population census in 2000, there were 11,400 children below the age of 15 who were married, of which 6,800 were girls and 4,600 boys.

The local movie “Suami Aku Ustaz”, which is produced by Karyaseni Production Sdn Bhd, has entered the list of Top 10 movies in the country, as compiled by Golden Screen Cinemas, since its nationwide premiere on May 14.

It was adapted from a best-selling novel Malay-language novel of the same title penned by Hannah Dhaniyah.