SETIAWANGSA: The government will amend the Child Act 2016 and the Islamic Family Enactment to raise the minimum marriage age for women from 16 to 18.
Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said the move was timely in light of recent reports of an 11-year-old girl who married a 41-year-old rubber tapper.
The marriage, which was conducted in southern Thailand, saw the girl being taken as the third wife of the man, who was from Gua Musang, Kelantan.
The matter elicited outrage and disquiet among netizens when it went viral on social media recently.
Dr Wan Azizah, who is also Women, Family and Community Development Minister, said that amendments to the Child Act, among others, would ensure the protection of the rights of children psychologically, health-wise and education.
She said the amendment would help address the problem of child marriages as seen in the current controversial one involving the 11-year-old girl.
She said the marriage was not legal as it was done without getting prior permission from the Syariah Court.
Dr Wan Azizah said the court’s permission was mandatory although the girl’s parents had consented to the (girl’s) father to be a “wali” for her to marry the 41-year-old man.
“After speaking with a Syariah Court judge, he explained Section 8 of the Syariah Family Enactment (which requires the Syariah Court’s permission).
“It (the marriage) is not legal because it did not have permission via a (Syariah) court order for them to be married,” she said.
She was speaking at a press conference at the sidelines of an Aidilfitri celebration with 2,000 orphaned and underprivileged children at Stadium Mini Setiawangsa here today.
Among those present were Setiawangsa member of parliament Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, Kuala Lumpur City Hall executive director (management) Datuk Mustafa Mohd Nor, and non-governmental organisation (NGO) Insaf Malaysia president and founder Ishak Abdul Kadir.
Dr Wan Azizah said that tomorrow she would meet with officials from the Welfare Department to discuss the issue further.
“Underage marriage is among the problems we face today. The (present) Child Act (amended 2018) ensures that children are cared for and protected under Section 17 (of the Act),” she said.
She referred to a proviso from the section which ensures such protection “in the best interest of the child.”
Dr Wan Azizah noted that the matter of marriage between the 11-year-old girl and the 41-year-old man must be looked at from other angles such as poverty and pressure from employment.
“Why did the father allowed his 11-year-old daughter to get married (to the 41-year-old man)?
“Was it because the one who was wooing (the girl) happened to be an employer (of a family member related to the girl),” she said, adding that this may have pressured the family.
Dr Wan Azizah said the girl was wooed twice and that the latter’s mother had even cautioned the man that the girl was too young and asked for the marriage to be consummated only when she turns 16.
She noted that the elder brother of the girl was also beset with juvenile problems, which indicated the complexity of the issue.
She said the matter must be approached holistically as it went beyond merely separating the child from the man and the possible imposition of RM1,000 fine and six months’ jail.
“Paedophilia, child exploitation, child pornography...We must be firm on this as children are our responsibility,” she said.
In a related development, Dr Wan Azizah, said an officer from the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry had gone to meet the 41-year-old man, who was from Gua Musang, Kelantan, yesterday but he could not be found. The officer instead met the girl’s mother.
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