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Civil society coalition supports ban on child marriages

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Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia (GBM) applauds the statement issued by the Ministry of Woman and Family Development regarding child marriages in the country.

We support the stance of the ministry that child marriages contravene the United Nation Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

We also welcome the ministry’s efforts to work with non-governmental organisations that focus on women and children, religious experts and the Sharia courts to monitor the situation so as to ensure the children’s welfare is safeguarded.

Religious Affairs Minister Mujahid Yusof Rawa’s announcement that the law would be reformed to ban child marriages is commendable. To prevent more unfortunate children from falling prey as child bride victims, the reform should be implemented as soon as possible.

Although we also welcome the proposal by the Selangor Islamic Religious Council (Mais) to set the minimum age to marry for Muslim girls to 18 from the current 16, we note with concern that in one of their statements, Mais appears to imply that permission may be granted for marriage below 18 if the “conditions” are right. We feel that the “conditional” clause is totally unnecessary and it should be an absolute ban.

  • We call upon Deputy Prime Minister and Women and Family Development Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail to take an active role and lead in the government to bring about a blanket ban on child marriages in the shortest time possible.
  • We wish to remind the government that Malaysia has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1995. Malaysia has the responsibility to uphold the spirit and implement the requirement of both conventions.

Article 16(2) of Cedaw states:

The betrothal and the marriage of a child shall have no legal effect, and all necessary action, including legislation, shall be taken to specify a minimum age for marriage and to make the registration of marriages in an official registry compulsory.

In the question of who constitutes a “child”, Article 1 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child states:

The Convention defines a “child as a person below the age of 18, unless the laws of a particular country set the legal age for adulthood younger”, which is also in line with Malaysia’s Child Act 2001 that states under Section 2 that a child is “a person under the age of eighteen years”.

Article 3 of the convention also states:

The best interests of children must be the primary concern in making decisions that may affect them. All adults should do what is best for children. When adults make decisions, they should think about how their decisions will affect children. This particularly applies to budget, policy and lawmakers.

The best interest for children should be in school, stated under Section 29A of the Malaysia Education Act 1996, which states primary school is compulsory. Marriage is not in the best interest of children, who are still growing. They must be given every opportunity for education to develop their full potential in contributing to a new Malaysia.

Endorsed by the following GBM member organisations:

1. All Women’s Action Society (Awam)
2. Engage
3. Federation of Chinese Association Johore State (FCAJ)
4. Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (KLSCAH)
5. Kumpulan Aktivis Mahasiswa Independen (Kami)
6. LLG Cultural Development Centre (LLG)
7. Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST)
8. Negeri Sembilan Chinese Assembly Hall (NSCAH)
9. Partners in Community Organising (Pacos Trust)
10. Persatuan Aliran Kesedaran Negara (Aliran)
11. Persatuan Masyarakat Selangor dan Wilayah Persekutuan (Permas)
12. Pusat KOMAS (Komas)
13. Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia (SABM)
14. Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram)
15. Tamil Foundation Malaysia (TF)
16. Tindak Malaysia

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