Child marriage persists in progressive Malaysia

From AlertNet:

Muslim girl in a Malay traditional dress, Maisarah Abdul Aziz, 6, smiles as she prepares for a performance during the carnival marking the United Nations Universal Children's Day in Shah Alam outside Kuala Lumpur November 22, 2009. REUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad

BANGKOK (TrustLaw) – Early last year, there was uproar in Malaysia when news came to light of two girls, 10 and 11 years old, marrying men in their 40s in the deeply religious Kelantan state in the north.

The 11-year-old was found days later abandoned and in a state of shock. The marriage was ruled illegal, not because of the age of the child, but because they did not follow Malaysia’s Islamic law where marriages of girls under 16 are allowed with the permission of the Syariah court. 

Then in December, a 14-year-old Muslim girl who married a 23-year-old teacher in July participated in mass wedding celebrations attended, according to reports, by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Jamil Khir Baharom.

For all its image as a progressive and model Muslim-majority nation, Malaysia has not managed to – or decided not to – stop the practice of child marriage, fuelled by poverty and belief that it is perfectly normal to marry young girls under Islamic doctrine, rights groups told TrustLaw.

“It’s very clearly a poverty factor above everything else,” said Zalifah Azman, part of the team writing a shadow report on Malaysia’s compliance with the Convention of the Rights of the Child.

However, in certain places, “the cycle (of child marriage) seems to perpetuate also because it’s usually validated by the use of Islamic doctrine for some reasons,” she told TrustLaw.

Activists say as many as 16,000 Malaysian girls under 15 are already married and have called to amend the Syariah Family Law which governs Malay Muslims that make up 60 percent of the nation’s 28 million population…”

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