AWL Press Statement No. 1 of 2017 - On Child Marriage
I refer to the statement of the Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Rohani Abdul Karim made last year at on 25.2.2016, where she was reported to have said:
"My ministry has always been against early marriage or child marriage as it curbs the mental, physical and psychological development of a child."Let a child be a child and go through that phase before going to study and working because a good career is more important,”
Such a position is laudatory and consistent with the international consensus that the definition of childhood should apply to humans up to the age of 18 years and which is based on scientific evidence. This definition of a child is intended to make sure that the period of care and physical, psychological and social preparation of the child should last for a period that is not less than 18 years which is the age at which that young person may have the physical and emotional maturity to become able to shoulder the various responsibilities expected of him or her, and may be able to make right decisions that will have a prolonged effect on his or her present and future life, such as the decision to get married.
There is ample statistical and medical data that child marriages are a harmful practice and frequently, the basic rights of the girl child are violated, depriving them of their basic right of choice. Such rights include, her right to an education, her right to a life free from violence and abuse (bearing in mind that marital rape remains an exception under the Penal Code) and medical risks which may include HIV infection, death during childbirth and medical conditions like obstetric fistula. We need to highlight the lived realities of these children to expose the grave injustices that they face by condoning the practice of child marriages.
In addition, the Sustainable Development Goals 5 (SDG 5) seeks to "eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilations." Such goals must be imbedded in our legal system. It cannot be emphasised enough that if child marriage remains unaddressed, this would inevitably and negatively impact on the nation's attainment of other SDG goals (eg SDGs 1, 3, 4, 8 and 16).
It would be relevant at this juncture, to refer to other notable publications on the issue. In particular, the joint report by Al Azhar University and UNICEF, reveal that child marriage is a mere custom with significant adverse effects. The relevant passage is reproduced below: "Child marriage is no more than a custom; it is not part of Sharia or worship and it leads without doubt to significant adverse effects. Therefore, the preferred age of marriage is after the age of 18 years. Marriage is a religious and social responsibility that demands the ability and willingness of both husband and wife to bear its responsibilities, so it is not right to apply this burden to children." (https://www.unicef.org/egypt/eg_Joint_book_high_res_Eng.(1).pdf)
See also the Children in Islam Report 2005 by Al Azhar University: http://www.crin.org/en/docs/Children%20and%20Islam.pdf. at page 9: "Islam and child marriage: Child marriages cause serious damage that oblige parents to spare their young from such repercussions"
The National Fatwa Council has on 1.11.2014, published an e-Fatwa on the government’s official website, this was reported as follows:
“Child marriages are not wajib (obligatory) or sunnah (encouraged), according to religious scholars with the National Fatwa Committee, which has published an e-Fatwa on the government’s official website.
“There is no hadith supporting child marriages. Marriages in the time of Prophet S.A.W. conducted by his friends were more to safeguard the welfare of children.
“Though it is included in issues that are legal, it is subject to the provisions of Maqasid Sharia and Qaedah Fiqhiyyah,”.
The fatwa states “that among the conclusions reached by the committee, based on the findings of the study, were that the issue of child marriages was not new in Malaysia and it was no longer seen as a “healthy” practice.”
We must promote and enhance the physical and mental development of our young girls and boys and their human rights as a whole. We hope that genuine and continuing open dialogue will reveal how unacceptable this practice is in a social and legal sense, for all women and men.
Let us take the first step based on empirical and scientific evidence, data and research to work together to effect attitudinal and legislative change for the eradication of child marriage.
That is the least we can do, we owe it to our children.
GOH SIU LIN
President of the Association of Women Lawyers