Pro­tect­ing chil­dren from un­der­age mar­riages

New Straits Times - - Opinion -

AS the gov­ern­ment goes ahead with the pro­posed Child Sex­ual Crime Act, it should also con­sider ad­dress­ing un­der­age mar­riages un­der the pro­posed act.

The act is a good step to pro­tect chil­dren from harm.

It would also en­sure that ac­tion would be taken against cul­prits and jus­tice would pre­vail.

Com­plaints in­volv­ing sex­ual crimes against chil­dren have been on the rise, judg­ing from the num­ber of po­lice re­ports lodged.

But, at the same time, the num­ber of cases brought to court is lower.

The pro­posed act will in­tro­duce new of­fences against chil­dren, namely child groom­ing and child pornog­ra­phy.

It will take into con­sid­er­a­tion chil­dren giv­ing ev­i­dence and the es­tab­lish­ment of a court to deal with child sex of­fend­ers.

Un­der our law, the mar­riage­able age for Mus­lim women is lower than that for Mus­lim men.

Sec­tion 8 of Malaysian Is­lamic Fam­ily Law (Fed­eral Ter­ri­to­ries) Act of 1984 (Act 303) states that the min­i­mum le­gal age for Mus­lim boys to marry is 18, and for a Mus­lim girl, 16.

They are al­lowed to marry with the writ­ten per­mis­sion from the Syariah Court af­ter both sets of par­ents put in an ap­pli­ca­tion to for­malise their union.

Without hav­ing such per­mis­sion from the court, cou­ples com­mit an of­fence and shall be pun­ished with a fine not ex­ceed­ing RM1,000 or with im­pris­on­ment not ex­ceed­ing six months, or both.

For non–Mus­lims, the le­gal age of mar­riage is 18.

Non–Mus­lim fe­males are per­mit­ted to marry be­tween the ages of 16 and 18 with the con­sent of the chief min­is­ter.

This is stip­u­lated un­der Sec­tion 10 Law Re­form (Mar­riage and Di­vorce) Act 1976 (Act 164).

Al­though the law on this is­sue seems clear, it can be open to abuse.

To pre­vent abuse, ad­dress­ing the is­sue un­der the pro­posed act would fur­ther guar­an­tee the child’s pro­tec­tion.

Un­der­age mar­riages have last­ing con­se­quences, es­pe­cially for girls, as the trauma will go be­yond their ado­les­cent years.

Women mar­ried in their teens strug­gle with the health ef­fects of get­ting preg­nant at a young age.

Un­der­age mar­riages can also open the door to do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, child sex­ual abuse and mar­i­tal rape if no steps are taken.

DR MUZAF­FAR SYAH MALLOW, Se­nior lec­turer, Faculty of Syariah & Law, Univer­siti Sains Is­lam Malaysia

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