Thumbs-up to stricter SOP on child marriages

Dr Lucy Sebli Seidelson

KUCHING: People generally accept the government’s proposal for a stricter standard operating procedure (SOP) involving child marriages for cases to be heard before Syariah high court judges.

Bernama reported Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Fuziah Salleh as saying recently that high court judges were more experienced and trained, apart from ensuring stricter procedures were implemented.

Currently, applications for child marriages are heard before Syariah lower court judges.

The New Sarawak Tribune talked to several persons, including State Welfare, Community Wellbeing, Women, Family and Childhood Development Minister Datuk Seri Fatimah Abdullah, for their thoughts on child marriages.

“In Sarawak, we need to have our own three separate SOP with regard to child marriage via civil marriage, syariah and adat istiadat (State Native Custom Council).”

She also said that “we are at the stage of agreeing on minimum age of marriage, especially marriage under the Council for Native Customs and Traditions.”

“This is because Sarawak has a multi-racial, cultural and tradition-based background. We have many ethnic groups and some are still silent on the minimum age of marriage, this means for that particular ethnic group, there’s no known specific minimum of age for marriage,” she said.

“SOP comes in importantly to ensure proper marriage, registration of the marriage and above all     the wellbeing of the girl and child born out of this marriage is of top priority.”

A media practitioner, wanting to be known only as John, said it was a good thing to implement a much stricter SOP for the young wishing to get married as child marriages in Malaysia involved not only Muslims but also non-Muslims.

“It’s a must to have a profound and strict SOP in the application of marriage at such a young age (child marriages). As we look in the newspaper daily, there are reports about it and some are quite bad,” he said.

“In this matter, I think it’s for the parents to be concerned about it, as early age marriages block almost what is necessary in life like education as some would leave school at an early age just to provide for the family,” he said.

He also added that in each religion, there is a set of rules with regard to child marriages, what is practiced in ancient times is not relevant today.

Meanwhile, Dr Lucy Sebli Seidelson, a lecturer in the Faculty of Social Science, Unimas said it is compulsory for the parties involved, the decision makers, politicians, lawyers, NGO women, Human Rights NGO to sit together and look into this and come up with solutions.

“A well-rounded, concrete and holistic SOP can guarantee our children’s rights are protected and has the transparency and details about it,” she said.

She also added that the implementation of a much stricter SOP in the application of child marriage is important to ensure the wellbeing of the children.