KUALA LUMPUR, July 1 — The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) expressed concern today that paedophilia could be legalised in child marriages approved by Shariah courts or state chief ministers.
Amid the controversy surrounding the case of a 41-year-old Kelantanese man marrying an 11-year-old Thai girl, Suhakam urged Shariah judges and the authorities to stop permitting child marriages.
“Suhakam is concerned that at present, religious justifications supported by law may be used to provide cover for paedophiles and child sexual predators who marry the children/victims,” said Suhakam in a statement.
“Suhakam reiterates that there is no justification to child marriage and stands firm that where religious practices are concerned, they must not supersede the fundamental rights of a child; the best interest of the child must still prevail,” it added.
The commission also urged the government and state religious authorities, including the federal Department of Islamic Department (Jakim) to educate the public about the detriments of underage marriage.
Local daily The Star reported in 2013 that in 2012, there were 1,165 applications for marriage in which one party, usually the bride, was below 16. The Shariah Courts reportedly approved 1,022 of them.
The legal age of marriage for non-Muslims is 18 for both genders, but a girl aged 16 can be legally married if the state chief minister/mentri besar or in the case of the federal territories, its minister, authorises it by granting a licence. However, non-Muslims cannot get married below 16.
As for Muslims, the minimum legal age for marriage in the states’ Islamic family laws is 18 and 16 for a male and female respectively, but children below these ages can still marry if they get the consent of a Shariah judge. There is no minimum age of marriage.
Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail reportedly said today that the latest child marriage, where the ceremony was conducted in Thailand, was unlawful and told the couple to separate.