Uphold the Convention on the Rights of the Child; Establish a Child Commission — Malaysian Bar

JULY 2 — The Malaysian Bar welcomes the statement by Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail that the marriage between a 41-year old man and a 11-year old girl is unlawful, and that it is time to increase the age limit of marriage involving girls from 16 to 18.

The Malaysian Bar looks forward to the government instituting law reform in this regard, and for the government to take proactive steps and measures to increase public awareness of the detrimental effects of marriage upon a child’s physical and mental health, education and economic opportunities, and risk exposure to domestic and sexual abuse.

The government bears a critical obligation and duty to ensure the healthy development and protection of all children in Malaysia, pursuant to Malaysia’s accession of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (“CRC”). According to the Child Act 2001, which was enacted to fulfil Malaysia’s obligations under the CRC, a child is defined as a person under the age of 18 years.

However, the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 stipulates that the marriage of non-Muslim children below 16 years old cannot be legally approved. This discrepancy is exacerbated for Muslim children who are permitted under Syariah law to be entered into marriage upon obtaining written permission from a Syarie judge, pursuant to the Islamic family law enactment of the respective state.

It is troubling that child marriages, for both Muslims and non-Muslims, are not rare in Malaysia. Between 2005 and 2015, 10,240 Muslims applied for child marriage to the Jabatan Kehakiman Syariah Malaysia. Among non-Muslims, there were 7,719 marriage applications from 2000 to 2014 for girls between 16 and 18 years old. These alarming statistics are unacceptable and should serve as a wake-up call as to the gravity of the issue. All matters and decisions taken concerning a child must bear the child’s best interests as paramount.

The Malaysian Bar therefore calls on the government to review all relevant laws relating to child marriage accordingly. In this connection, the Malaysian Bar also calls on the government to form a Child Commission, to be headed by a Child Commissioner who shall report directly to Parliament, with the powers to address the issue of child marriage and all other issues pertaining to children in Malaysia, such as the inadequacies in the Sexual Offences Against Children Act 2017, the lack of care and treatment of children in the juvenile justice system, and the lack of a system of accountability for the various agencies dealing with children’s issues.

*This statement is issued by George Varughese, President, Malaysian Bar.

**This is the personal opinion of the writer or organisation and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.