Report: Sarawak has most requests for child marriages, Muslim and non-Muslim

Bedus recommended that schooling be made compulsory until Form Five, with adequate financial provision, to encourage girls to have 'wider aspirations'. — AFP pic
Bedus recommended that schooling be made compulsory until Form Five, with adequate financial provision, to encourage girls to have 'wider aspirations'. — AFP pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 25 — Malaysia’s largest state records the highest number of child marriage applications that cuts across all races and religions, The Star reported today.

The newspaper reported Sarawak recorded 2,064 Muslim child marriage applications over 10 years, from 2005 to 2015, based on data from the state Shariah Judiciary Department. It also cited data from think tank Penang Institute showing non-Muslim child marriage applications to be the highest nationwide over a period of 15 years from 2000 to 2014, at 1,750.

One of the reasons for the high number of applications was to avoid the stigma of having children born out of wedlock, the paper reported Sarawak Women for Women Soc­i­e­­ty president Margaret Bedus as saying.

“If so, this requires effective and age-appropriate reproductive health education for our youths starting from an early age.

“There is still reluctance for schools and parents to address this. This needs to change,” she was quoted as saying.

Bedus said it would be helpful if the state data also showed the breakdown in applications between rural and urban areas.

“In rural areas, the tradition of early marriages — especially if the girl has dropped out of school or is unable to find employment — is still apparent as girls tend to see this as the next step in life to take,” she was quoted saying.

Bedus recommended that schooling be made compulsory until Form Five, with adequate financial provision, to encourage girls to have “wider aspirations”.

She said financial assistance is necessary to subsidise the cost of travelling to boarding schools in rural Sarawak as well as providing basic school materials for students.

She also said the data should include the age gap between the would-be child brides and grooms.

“Early marriage is a problem whatever the age gap, but marriage to an older man is even more worrying.

“Parental awareness and empowerment can be done as we should move away from the myth that child marriages get families out of poverty,” she said.

Bedus was reported backing the federal government’s move to standardise the minimum marriage age to 18 for both women and men, regardless of racial and religious background, nationwide, but said full support was lacking in Sarawak.

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