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Concrete Action, Not Just Promises, Needed To Address Child Marriages Nationwide — Sisters In Islam

SIS reiterates the call for religious authorities to acknowledge the adverse consequences of child marriages and join the effort to protect young girls.

Girls outnumber boys in child marriage cases in Malaysia Photo from UNICEF Malaysia’s Facebook page.

Sisters in Islam (SIS) regards the recent report by FMT on January 26, 2024, revealing an 82.8 per cent decline in child marriages in Selangor between 2018 and 2022 as welcoming.

However, while we see this as positive news for Selangor, we cannot ignore the glaring gaps in addressing this pressing issue on a national scale.

The reported success in Selangor, as presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council, demands a critical examination of the overall situation in the country.

The Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development’s assertion that Selangor’s progress is an exemplar of the National Strategic Plan in Handling the Causes of Child Marriage 2020-2025 raises essential questions about the efficacy of these strategies in states beyond Selangor.

The ongoing mid-term review of the strategic plan, as disclosed in Geneva, prompts SIS to insist on transparency and urgency in rectifying any shortcomings. It is unacceptable that child marriages persist despite comprehensive initiatives and data available.

Commendable efforts in Selangor and Kedah, where the legal minimum age of marriage has been raised to 18, emphasise the positive impact of legal reform. However, the lack of uniform progress across states raises concerns about the commitment to eradicating child marriages at the national level.

We reiterate the call for religious authorities to acknowledge the adverse consequences of child marriages and join the effort to protect young girls and urge the government to intensify engagement with states resisting the raising of the legal age for marriage, prioritising the well-being of the child over outdated practices.

In 2019, the then Women, Family and Community Development Minister, Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, informed the Dewan Rakyat that the Federal Territories were currently in the process of amending, and that Johor, Melaka, Penang, Perak, and Sabah had consented to do so.

SIS questions why, despite these assurances, the progress remains at such a preliminary stage. This stagnation in protecting the rights of women and children is a stark reflection of the government’s lack of political will to ensure the well-being of all in society, not just a privileged few.

Reflecting on our 2019 plea to Putrajaya and inquiries about the involvement of the Children’s Commissioner in the National Strategic Plan, the slow or lack of progress and regional disparities persist giving concerns that couples could potentially exploit legal loopholes across states among other things.

A nationwide ban is imperative to protect all citizens, especially the vulnerable among us, including children and women.

It should be noted that child marriage locks girls out of learning, puts their health and wellbeing at risk and compromises their future.

What legacy does the nation seek if it fails to enact reforms that protect its most vulnerable members of society? There seems to be a lack of political will from Putrajaya on all things women related.

Despite promises made earlier in 2019 nothing substantial has come to fruition. SIS calls for concrete, swift actions, and genuine efforts to convince other states like Kelantan, Negeri Sembilan, Pahang, Sarawak, Terengganu, and all other states to raise the age for marriages for both Muslims and natives.

In conclusion, we emphasise the urgent need for concrete action, not just promises. We call on the government to demonstrate unwavering commitment to protecting the rights of all citizens, irrespective of their geographic location.

  • This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Ova.

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