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Why Child Marriage Is A Bigger Issue Than We Think It Is

Text by Meghan Paul Angelica Edited By Lina Esa Featured Image TPG Images/Click Photos

Update: According to New Straits Times Online, a 44-year-old man has taken a 15-year-old girl as his second wife. The solemnisation of vows took place at the Masjid Kampung Laut in Tumpat in July, after the Shariah Court gave the go-ahead for the union. The girl, whose parents run a sundry shop with an income of RM200-RM300 every month, has 12 other siblings. Her parents said they gave permission for her marriage to the 44-year-old man as they wanted her to have a better life.

Each year, more than 12 millions girls are married before the age of 18. According to UNICEF, if the current level of marriages hold, 14.2 million girls annually will be married too young.

While child marriage is prevalent the world over, and has had a dark history here in Malaysia, the issue was sparked once again when news broke that a middle-aged man married an 11-year-old child. On June 30 2018, Star Online reported of such a union when 41-year-old Che Abdul Karim Che Abdul Hamid took 11-year-old Ayu as his third wife in Golok, Thailand.

Within hours, there was a deluge of reporting and outrage on social media platforms and online news sites regarding the news of the married couple. And it’s no wonder — the idea of a man marrying a child is enough to send everyone into a rage. And it shows that it’s a practice still happening in our country. We’re in 2018, what is happening?

What was national news has now garnered international reporting. While historically, child marriage was considered a solution for economic problems back in the day where poverty was an issue, we have progressed. We live in a global, civilised society in the 21st century. There are developments, policies, protection of the rights of children (just last year in March 2017, the Malaysian Parliament passed the Sexual Offences Against Children Bill 2017).

Laws aside, child marriage is pedophilia. It’s a loophole for statutory rape.

How are we still letting this happen? 

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THE FACTS and stats of child marriage

There is no denying that child marriage is a complex issue. Many factors contribute to it such as poverty, lack of education, and cultural practices. Child marriage is the formal (or informal) marriage of a child under the age of 18 (regardless of the gender).

In the past, many communities where child marriage is practised, girls were not “valued” as much as boys were, so little girls  were seen as burdens to their families. So the solution was to marry off daughters as early as possible to ease economic hardship — by “transferring” the burden of their daughter to her husband’s family.

According to Girls Not Brides, 12 millions girls are married off before the age of 18 each year — that accounts for more than 32,000 girls a day, and almost 23 girls a minute worldwide.

In 2010, the Ministry for Women revealed that nearly 15,000 girls in Malaysia that were below the age of 15 were married, while 82,000 girls were married between the ages of 15 and 19.

According to Star Online, The Child Rights Civil Society Organisations Group (CSCG) said in a statement, “child marriage was totally unacceptable anywhere in the world”. CSCG also stated that the promise made in the Pakatan Harapan Manifesto was to ban child marriages as well as set the legal minimum age for marriage at 18 years old.

Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Dr Wan Azizah, who is also Women, Family and Community Development Minister said that the child marriage issue should be viewed in a holistic manner and it should be examined whether such a case involved any elements of paedophilia, child exploitation and child pornography.

At this point, if there is little political will to change the laws to protect children from getting married, underaged children will continue to be victim to this inhumane tradition.

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