Two women’s advocacy groups are urging the new Malaysian government to fulfill an electoral pledge to declare 18 the legal age to wed and ban child marriage because, they say, this violates human rights.
Religious conservatism, patriarchal beliefs and reasons of sexual impropriety are the main drivers of child marriage in Malaysia, the NGOs Sisters in Islam (SIS) and the Asia Pacific Resource and Research Center for Women (Arrow) said in a new report published ahead of an international conference next week in Kuala Lumpur that will focus on the issue.
“The solution must be a total ban on child marriage through reform legislation. The minimum age of marriage must be raised to 18 for both genders, regardless of faith and ethnicity, with no exceptions,” said Rozana Isa, executive director of SIS.
In its election manifesto, the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition promised to introduce a law requiring citizens to be at least 18 years old to marry.
Malaysia has a civil legal system and a separate Islamic (Sharia) legal system, and Muslim scholars have argued that a girl should be allowed to marry once she reaches puberty.
The report by the two NGOs quoted 2010 government statistics showing that 153,000 people below the age of 19 were married. Of those, 80,000 were girls and most were from the Malay Muslim community, the country’s ethnic and religious majority.
Child marriages are most prevalent in the Borneo state of Sarawak with about 1,745 recorded, followed by northern state of Johor with 999, and Selangor with 687, according to the report, which based its information on data from the Ministry of Home Affairs, from 2000 to 2014.
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