The Pakatan Harapan Penang government is seeking to hold in-depth talks with the state’s Islamic authorities and Muslim groups to curb the existing practice of child marriages, state executive councillor Chong Eng said today.
The women, family and community development committee chairman said she hoped to rope in state Islamic religious affairs committee chairman Datuk Abdul Malik Abul Kassim for the talks.
“We plan to do a consultation with him, the relevant Islamic religious agencies and Muslim groups to discourage child marriages and get Muslims to understand that child marriages is not good for the child,” she said after a roundtable discussion on child protection.
She said a report on the round table discussion will be presented to Abdul Malik, who was not present at the discussion, so that he could assist in arranging discussions on the issue with Muslim groups and Islamic religious authorities.
There is currently a conflict between civil laws and Islamic laws on the minimum legal act for marriages in Malaysia. For non-Muslims, the earliest they can tie the knot is at 18, although those who are 16 may be allowed if they have the written consent from the state chief minister.
For Muslims, the legal age of marriage for males is 18 and females, 16, but the Shariah Court may give permission for Muslims to marry at any age.
Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng has vowed not to allow child marriages in the state.
In his overview to the round table, Bukit Mertajam MP Steven Sim said there is an average of 33 child marriages in Penang each year.
He said there seemed to be a “high tolerance” of sexual violence against children and adults in Malaysia.
“In an odd and sick manner, sexual crime is seen condoned by government when child marriage is legitimised and there were also cases of perpetrators being ‘rewarded’ by allowing them to marry their victims,” he said.
Kulai MP Teo Nie Ching, who spoke on the amended Child Act and Child Marriages, said there are still shortcomings in the amendment of the act.
“In 2015, the Jabatan Kehakiman Syariah Malaysia received 1,121 applications for child marriage, which translated to more than three applications per day,” she said.
She pointed out that Malaysia adopted the United Nations resolution to end child marriages at the Human Rights Council in October 2013 and yet did nothing to ban it in the country.
“The legal age for marriage for both boys and girls are 18 years old in Muslim majority countries such as Algeria and Egypt so why can’t we follow suit too? The primary consideration here should be what is best for the child,” she said.
Though there were improvements to the Child Act after the amendment, she believed there needs to be more engagement with the civil society and also Opposition MPs before the amendments are passed through so that all issues are properly addressed.
She also raised the issue of stateless children, children born in Malaysia who were registered as “non-citizens”.
“Between 2011 and April 2016,131,810 children born in Malaysia were registered as non-citizens,” she said, adding that in most of these cases, these are children of a Malaysian parent who married a foreigner and failed to register the marriage here.
She said these children were denied their rights because of a technicality while in contrast, a total 42,232 foreigners were granted Malaysian citizenship between 2008 and 2015.