Challenges to ban child marriage include religious beliefs, customs

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KUCHING: Child marriage is a sexual abuse and a violation of rights of children as children will usually drop out from school once they got married.

Children’s Commissioner Professor Datuk Noor Aziah Mohd Awal said therefore, a child’s right to education would be robbed in these cases.

She said when a child bride was too young to understand what was going on, that was a direct violation of human rights.

“However, it is difficult to ban child marriage due to religious beliefs; such as for Muslims, age is not a requirement of a valid marriage,” she told New Sarawak Tribune.

“Secondly, it was due to customs and belief, where child marriage is accepted customarily among the native in Sabah and Sarawak.”

“Children in the rural of Sabah and Sarawak, are forced into child marriage because there is nothing else they can do (lack of education and job opportunity),” she added.

Noor Aziah said some children in rural Sarawak have never gone to school as there was no school available nearest to where they live.

She also believed that poverty and customary laws and practices were among main factors contributed to the high number of child marriage cases in Sarawak.

She said the Office of the Children’s Commissioner (OCC) was aware of Islamic and native’s laws in relation to this issue. Thus, OCC has conducted consultation with all the Chief Syariah Judges and Director of the Islamic religious department.

“We are committed to see an end to child marriage and have been very active in giving talks or awareness campaign on child marriage” she said.

Datuk Noor Aziah Mohd Awal

Noor Aziah also said the enactments (state ordinance) and minimum marriage age can only be amended if the states agree to the amendment.

The minimum age for Muslims seeking marriage is 18 for boys and 16 for girls, according to the Islamic Family Law. However, those under the legal age can seek permission to marry from the Shariah Court.

For non-Muslims, the minimum age for both boys and girls is 18 with consent from the parents, as per the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976, although girls can marry at 16 if they obtain a licence from their state’s chief minister or mentri besar. In Sarawak, the power has been devolved to the Resident in each division

Those aged under 16 are not allowed to get married.

A total of 1,638 underage individuals got married in Sarawak from 2017 to 2020, where 500 of them were recorded as marrying underage according to Syariah or Islamic law. Meanwhile, 1,138 individuals were recorded marrying underage customarily (customary child marriage).

Last month, the Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Rina Mohd Harun in a reply to Parliament said it had no plans to ban child marriage while being committed to preventing such unions. She said there was a need to manage the issue through education, advocacy, strengthening the family institution and socioeconomic support in the community, aside from amending legal provisions.

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