Not Our Girls

It’ s 2018— why are we still deal­ing with

CLEO (Malaysia) - - CONTENTS -

Ev­ery year, more than 12 mil­lion girls are mar­ried be­fore t he age of 18 world­wide. Ac­cord­ing to UNICEF, if t he cur­rent rate holds , 14.2 mil­lion girls an­nu­ally will be mar­ried too young. While child mar­riage is preva­lent t he world over, and has a dark his­tory herein Malaysia, the is­sue was sparked once again when news broke t hat 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. The idea of am an mar­ry­ing a child is enough to send ev­ery­one into ar age. There are de­vel­op­ments, poli­cies, pro­tec­tion of the rights of chil­dren( just last year in March 2017, the Malaysian Par­lia­ment passed t he Sex­ual Of­fences Against Chil­dren Bill 2017). But it’ s a prac­tice still hap­pen­ing in our coun­try, and pe­dophiles are tak­ing ad­van­tage of le­gal loop holes. We in­ves­ti­gate the dark truths of child mar­riage.

THE HAR­ROW­ING RE­AL­ITY

Many f ac­tors con­trib­ute to child mar­riage, 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 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. 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 mil­lion girls are mar­ried off be­fore the age of 18 each year—that ac­counts for more than 32,000 girls a day, and al­most

Ac­cord­ing to Girls Not Brides, 12 mil­lion girls are mar­ried off be­fore the age of 18 each year.

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 82,0 00 girls were mar­ried be­tween t he ages of 15 and 19.

Ac­cord­ing to Child Rights and You, child mar­riage has a se­ri­ous neg­a­tive im­pact on the child’ s life. While the Con­ven­tion on the Rights of the Child has been rat­i­fied by most coun­tries around the world, most of th­ese rights are abused by the prac­tice of child mar­riage. Not only is it ac­qui­esced pe­dophilia, child mar­riage means that the child is de­nied the right to an ed­u­ca­tion, the right tore stand leisure, the right to pro­tec­tion from men­tal and phys­i­cal abuse. The child is then sub­jected to early moth­er­hood. Ac­cord­ing to Ad­vo­cates For Youth, ado­les­cents age 15 through 19 are twice as likely to die dur­ing preg­nancy or child birth, while girls un­der the age of 15 are five times more likely to die.

LOOP­HOLE FOR PE­DOPHILES

Ac­cord­ing to the Age of Ma­jor­ity Act 1971, the age of ma­jor­ity is 18; any­one below that is con­sid­ered a mi­nor. The re­quire­ments f or mar­riage in Malaysia un­der the Law Re­form ( Mar­riage and Di­vorce) Act 1976 states that the in­di­vid­ual must be of 18 years old in or­der to be el­i­gi­ble for mar­riage.

If the per­son is below 21 years but above 18 years, they will need their par­ents’ con­sent through the Writ­ten Con­sent To The Mar­riage For One Who Has Not Com­pleted 21 Years Of Age. If the per­son has not re­ceived the con­sent but wishes to pro­ceed, they will need to ap­ply to the High Court for con­sent of the court. Fe­males who are 16, and below 18, are able to marry but only if they are able to ob­tain a spe­cial mar­riage li­cense granted by the Chief Min­is­ter.

But here’s the kicker, Malaysia has a dual le­gal sys­tem which means that the min­i­mum age of mar­riage can be de­ter­mined by civil l aw or Syariah (Is­lamic) Law. The min­i­mum age of mar­riage for Mus­lim girls is 16 and 18 for boys. Any­one below that age can still wed as long as they ob­tain the Is­lamic Court ’ s con­sent. The re­al­ity of th­ese le­gal loop holes mean that

child mar­riages are r ecog­nised by l aw. There’s an in con­sis­tency here—how does this fit in with other laws that pro­tect the child against sex­ual of fences? It vi­o­lates a num­ber of our fun­da­men­tal rights en­shrined in the Fed­eral Con­sti­tu­tion: the right to live with self-dig­nity( ar­ti­cle 5), right to equal treat­ment and non-dis­crim­i­na­tion( ar­ti­cle 8) and right to free­dom of ex­pres­sion( ar­ti­cle 10). On the topic, CLEO reached out Pro­tect and Save The Chil­dren (P. S. The Chil­dren ), and its Pres­i­dent Datin Che Nariza Ha­j­jar Hashim had t his to say :

“P. S. The Chil­dren is very dis­turbed by t he news [about the 41- year old adult mar­ry­ing an 11- year old girl ]. We find this un­ac­cept­able and imp lore the gov­ern­ment tour gen­tly step in and take con­crete ac­tions to­wards rais­ing t he age of mar­riage to 18 years, and do a thor­ough re­view of the child pro­tec­tion sys­tem in Malaysia. P. S. the Chil­dren is a par t of a coali­tion of NGOs will­ing to work with t he gov­ern­ment to im­prove child rights and pro­tec­tion in Malaysia. We hope to do more for all chil­dren, who are, af­ter all, our fu­ture .”

END CHILD MAR­RIAGE

The Joint Ac­tion Group f or Gen­der Equal­ity( J AG ), which com­prises of All Women’ s Ac­tion So­ci­ety, As­so­ci­a­tion of Women Lawyers, Jus­tice for Sis­ters, Per a kW om en for Women, Per sat­u­anKe se daranKomiu ni ti Se­lan­gor, Sis­ters in I slam, Women’s Aid Or­gan­i­sa­tion and t he Women’s Cen­tre for Change; said that the same mar­riage be­tween 11- year- old Ayu and 41- year- old Che vi­o­lates Ar­ti­cles 3 and 24 of the Con­ven­tion on the Rights of the Child which out­lined that the in­ter­est of the child be the pri­mary con­sid­er­a­tion in­ac­tions by au­thor­i­ties.

To do your part, sign a pe­ti­tion on change.org, and stay up­dated with the # end child mar­riage hash­tag on your so­cial me­dia. If you wit­ness any­thing or have your sus­pi­cions about it, do not keep quiet. Ap­proach lo­cal news­pa­per, write about it on Face­book( with de­tails and the hash tag ), talk to JAG, and get in con­tact with UNICEF Malaysia. The longer we keep silent about this, the longer the prob­lem stays.

Wanted: A world where girls aren’t backed into a cor­ner

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