KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 19 — Putrajaya must intervene to deal with the seven states that have refused to ban child marriage in order to prevent harm against children, women’s rights group Sisters in Islam (SIS) said today.
The group also said that the seven states need to explain the rationale behind their decisions, as policymakers, child psychologists, healthcare practitioners, economists and even religious institutions have spoken about the harm of child marriage.
“In putting the best interest of children first, the Pakatan Harapan government needs to explain what is being done to compel the seven states that refused to cooperate,” SIS said in a statement.
“Stating that the Federal Government is unable to proceed just because seven states opposes reduces critical national issues to be determined at the state level.
“As harm to our children is clearly evident, it is the responsibility of the elected Federal Government to step in and act in their best interest,” it added.
Earlier today, Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said Sarawak, Pahang, Terengganu, Perlis, Negri Sembilan, Kedah and Kelantan have refused to amend laws on child marriages.
The minister of women, family and community development said only Selangor has amended its laws while the Federal Territories is in the process of do so. Five other states that have agreed to do the same are Penang, Sabah, Johor, Melaka and Perak.
SIS also said today it is shocked by Dr Wan Azizah’s response that criminal elements in circumstances of grooming children for sexual acts under the Sexual Offences Against Children Act “cannot be proven” and that “many parents feel that it is good for the child to be married off”.
“These responses by the Deputy Prime Minister is not only irresponsible, but deliberately puts the lives and futures of these child victims in grave danger, where laws are supposed to be there to protect them,” it said.
It also asked if the National Strategic Plan to tackle the issue of child marriage had included engagements with civil society organisations, especially those working on women’s and children’s rights, especially the National Human Rights Commission’s (Suhakam) Children Commissioner.
“Malaysia’s neighbours Thailand and Indonesia have legally banned child marriage in December 2018 and September 2019 respectively. Other Muslim-majority countries that have banned child marriage are Egypt, Kenya, Pakistan, Iraq and Jordan.
“Sisters in Islam strongly reiterate our call that the minimum age of marriage must be raised to 18 years old for both boys and girls, Muslim and non-Muslims, with no exceptions,” it said.