Malaysia: Malacca government to allow underage Muslims to marry

New Strait Times

Women leaders from both the government and non-governmental organisations have slammed the move by the Malacca government to allow underage Muslims to marry. Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, while acknowledging that marriages involving Muslim minors would still require the approval of the Syariah Court, hoped the judges would continue to exercise their discretion.

She reiterated that the ministry's stand on underage marriage was "morally and socially unacceptable".

"It should not be encouraged as it is detrimental to the development and well being of the child. 

"Placing the heavy burden and responsibilities of parenthood on children can deprive them of their rights to a full and harmonious development," she said, adding it would affect the child's psychological, emotional and physical development.

Puteri Umno chief Datuk Rosnah Abdul Rashid Shirlin, in a text message, said the ruling would not prevent unwanted pregnancies as the individuals involved were not serious about setting up a family.

"They are more interested in having fun without thinking about the consequences.

"Marrying them off at an early age could also lead to a broken marriage and an increase in divorces.

"These young couples would not be prepared to deal with certain responsibilities, including financial ones," she said, stressing that such social ills should be nipped at the bud by parents who were responsible for their children's morals and religious education.

Rosnah, who is also the deputy health minister, said parents should always know the whereabouts of their children and the latter's friends.

Women's Aid Organisation executive director Ivy Josiah said women's groups believed that individuals should marry at the age of 18 or older regardless if they were Muslim or non-Muslim.

Malaysia was a signatory to two United Nation conventions, the convention of the Rights of the Child and The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and the conventions, along with the country's Child Act, stipulated that women below 18 were children, she said. 

"It doesn't matter if the family agrees. We need to adopt universal standards. It is not just an issue of age. There are repercussions on the child's health, mentally and physically. We must also look at the maturity of the individuals."