Still at least one underage marriage every month in Kelantan, group says

Students protest against child marriage outside the Parliament in Kuala Lumpur November 13, 2018. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Students protest against child marriage outside the Parliament in Kuala Lumpur November 13, 2018. — Picture by Hari Anggara

GEORGE TOWN, Feb 18 — Sisters in Islam (SIS) today revealed that the Kelantan Shariah courts had approved 10 underage marriages between January 2018 and January 2019.

This is despite a federal directive for all state governments to raise the minimum legal age for marriage to 18 years for both Muslims and non-Muslims.

“When averaged, this indicates that at least one underage marriage took place almost every month in the state,” they said in a statement today.

SIS condemned Kelantan and Terengganu for retaining child marriages, despite Kelantan Shariah court judge Abu Bakar Abdullah Kutty mentioning “underage marriages must be prevented from early on because it is feared that couples will face countless problems”.

It said Kelantan’s stance reflected the actions of an irresponsible government who is willing to endanger the futures of children.

“It also shows a disregard for the pursuit of education as a means for economic emancipation among the more impoverished communities in the state,” they said.

It also condemned Kelantan for rejecting the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in November 2018.

The group expressed concern that most states have not made the move to comply with Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s directive for all state governments to raise the minimum legal age for marriage to 18 years for both Muslims and non-Muslims.

While there seem to be efforts by states such as Penang, Selangor and Sabah to amend the respective state laws to raise the age for marriage, the group believes that implementation is still lacking.

It noted that the Penang Islamic Religious Department (JAIPP) was instructed to submit a report for the decision to be finalised last October but till today, there is no official announcement on the status of the legislative amendment.

“In September 2018, Selangor’s Menteri Besar Amirudin Shari announced that amendments to increase the age of marriage in the state were passed by the state legislative assembly,” it said.

Amendments were made to the Islamic Family (State of Selangor) Enactment and Syariah Court Civil Procedure (State of Selangor) Enactment to raise the marriageable age limit of Muslims from 16 to 18.

The group said the new enactments, which would include a set of ‘strict’ standard operating procedures (SOP), were to come into effect in January 2019.

“However, until today, there has been no indication of what criteria has been included in the SOPs,” it pointed out.

It noted that the Sabah Cabinet had agreed to set the minimum age of marriage at 18 in the state earlier this month, citing that a review of the law would involve amending the Native Courts Enactment.

“Nevertheless, there is no indication if amendments will be made at the state’s Sharia level to include Muslim children,” it said.

The group referred to a recent move by enforcement and religious authorities to stop the marriage of an 11-year-old Rohingya girl to a 20-year-old man in Seberang Perai, Penang, after the case was brought to light by a concerned member of the public.

“This incident reflects not only social will to end child marriage in the country but also how anyone can be empowered to play a role in ending the practice of child marriage in Malaysia,” SIS said.

SIS believes the incident should have made the state government raise the age of marriage to 18.

“Federal and state governments, and elected representatives including MPs and state assemblymen have the responsibility to protect the most vulnerable amongst us, including children,” they stressed.

The group said child marriage poses an obstacle to keeping children safe from harm, inculcating a positive social mindset and ensuring a bright future for them by prioritising their education.

SIS expressed concern on the politicising of the issue of child marriage at the expense of the welfare and wellbeing of the child.

“We emphasise again the urgency for laws to be amended, and for these laws to include all children, boys and girls, regardless of race and religion, with no exceptions,” they said.