KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 20 — Malaysia now has tighter guidelines for Muslims seeking Shariah courts’ approval for child marriages, but such procedures have not been adopted nationwide, Fuziah Salleh said today.
Fuziah, who is the deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of religious affairs, said the procedure for Muslim men seeking to marry those under the age of 16 was “not so strict” in the past.
“However, we have introduced an SOP (standard operating procedure), a guideline, very strict procedure that puts the welfare of the child as the central issue. So that procedure is supposed to protect the wellbeing of the child,” she said in an interview with radio station BFM this morning.
Fuziah said both an underage girl and her parents would be required under the guideline to seek permission for the Muslim child marriage, with such requests to go through multiple interviews and tests.
“For example, if an underage girl asks for permission to marry, there will be many interviews, many tests, amongst it, reproductive health tests, psychological tests, we even interview the parents.
“Poverty should not be a reason for marriage, pregnancy should also not be an excuse to marry off your daughter, for example if the daughter is raped,” she said.
“According to the procedures that have already been presented to all chief Shariah judges of the Shariah courts in the respective states, these SOPs should be implemented, but not every state has adopted it,” she later said.
In Malaysia, the administration of Islam in each state falls under the respective states’ jurisdiction. It is not known which state in Malaysia has not implemented the tighter child marriage rules.
Fuziah said the responsibility for the welfare of a Muslim child in underage marriages would fall under both the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development and the Prime Minister’s Department, which oversee civil laws at the federal level and Shariah courts at the state level respectively.
“Now we are committed to support the move by the Minister of Women to raise the minimum (marriage) age of girls to 18. However that does not solve the problem of child marriage, because people who want to marry will still want to marry,” she said earlier before speaking on the new stricter rules for Muslims.
Malaysia had recently been rocked by the news of two child marriage cases in Kelantan — a June case involving a 41-year-old Malaysian rubber tapper who was fined RM1,800 for marrying an 11-year-old Thai Muslim girl without the Shariah court’s approval; and a 44-year-old father of two marrying in July a 15-year-old girl with the Shariah court’s approval.
Under local laws, both Muslim and non-Muslim children are allowed to marry.
For non-Muslims, the minimum marriage age for boys and girls is 18, but a non-Muslim girl aged 16 can get married with approval from the state’s head of government — the mentri besar or chief minister.
Under state Islamic laws, the marriageable age is 18 for boys and 16 for girls, but Shariah courts have the authority to give consent to those below the permitted age to get married. There is no minimum age of marriage for Muslims.