PUTRAJAYA, April 23 — Devious fathers are manipulating the legal system to marry off their underage children.
The Shariah Judiciary Department say the fault lies in the present Shariah court system which entrust parents with the power to obtain consent from the courts on behalf of their underage daughters.
The department’s senior judicial director, Mohd Nadzri Abd Rahman, said the system gives room for irresponsible parents to abuse this power for their own interests.
“There was a case where a father requested to marry off his underage daughter and the court allowed it. However, we later learned the father had raped his daughter and married her off to cover up his crime,” he said, adding that charges were later brought against the father.
Nadzri said the system had also failed a 14-year-old girl when her father permitted her to be married off to her rapist, who was also the owner of the restaurant she worked at.
“The girl got pregnant. Fearing prosecution, the man and his wife fled to Thailand with the girl and he took the girl as his second wife.
Nadzri said the case was later brought to a Shariah court as the man wanted to get their marriage certified to ensure the unborn child gets an identity card.
“It was only during an in-camera session that she revealed she was forced to marry the man, and her father encouraged the marriage,” he said.
In Malaysia, civil law dictates the legal minimum age for marriage is 18 for both genders, while those under the permissible age need to obtain the approval from state menteri besar. The marriageable age under Islamic laws here is 18 for boys 16 for girls.
The Shariah court holds the authority to give consent to Muslim girls under 16 who wish to get married, where the application can be made by them or their parents at any marriage, divorce and reconciliation counter at their respective state religious department.
Nadzri said there have been cases of fathers marrying off their underage daughters to money lenders after they failed to settle their debts.
Nadzri revealed there were of 10,240 child marriage applications made from 2005 to 2015, which saw highest applications from Sarawak (2,064), Kelantan (1,929) and Terengganu (924).
He said while child marriages are publicly criticised, the court is sometimes left with no option but to give the green light.
“There had been cases where the children had engaged in premarital sexual activities and chose to get married to "formalise" the relationship. In such cases, the families of both sides will give their consent, leaving the court no option but to agree.”
Acknowledging there is a need for reform to ensure young children do not end up as victims, he suggested the setting up of a separate agency within the Shariah Judiciary Department to carefully scrutinise applications to ensure people do not abuse the system.
“But we need all stakeholders, including the Malaysian Islamic Development Department and state religious departments to be on board with us.”
Despite the negative perception on child marriages, he said not all cases were fraudulent in nature and there were genuine cases where young couples marry at a young age as they want to go overseas.
“We have had cases where the boy is going to pursue his education overseas and wishes to bring the girl with him. Since they are going to live together, they choose to make the relationship legal. The court does not see harm giving consent in such instance.
“There are also young couples who choose marriage as a means to avoid premarital sex. We allow it because it is done with good intentions, and marriage is seen as a sacred bond in the eyes of God,” he said.