Govt Says It's Not Necessary To Raise The Minimum Marriage Age For Muslim Girls To 18

Religious Affairs Minister Idris Ahmad, however, said that the Department of Shariah Judiciary Malaysia (JKSM) has taken steps to ensure those who request to marry underaged girls undergo a rigorous evaluation process.

Cover image via Free Malaysia Today

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The government will not raise the minimum age of marriage for Muslim girls from 16 to 18 after taking into consideration the feedback and views of the state governments, according to Religious Affairs Minister Idris Ahmad

The PAS-aligned Senator said that the decision was reached in September this year after most states rejected the proposal to increase the minimum marriage age as the matter falls under the states' jurisdiction.

According to the Minister, most states have basically agreed to maintain the existing age limit.

"Based on the views, the shariah law secretariat under the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (JAKIM) decided that there is no need to revise the minimum marriage age limit for Muslim girls," he said.

Idris, however, stressed that the Department of Shariah Judiciary Malaysia (JKSM) has taken steps to ensure those who request to marry underage girls undergo a rigorous evaluation process.

He was responding to Batu Kawan member of parliament (MP) Kasthuriraani Patto, who had asked about the government's efforts to curb underage marriages including increasing the marriage age limit.

The Batu Kawan MP has been fighting to make the minimum marrying age for all Malaysians set at 18 "with no exceptions for boys and girls regardless of race and religion" since 2018.

Batu Kawan MP Kasthuri Patto.

Image via Free Malaysia Today

He said that among the steps taken to preserve the interests of all parties, JKSM issued a standard operating procedure (SOP) for individuals applying for underage marriage on 28 September 2018

The SOP includes questioning the reason behind the marriage, the family backgrounds of those getting married, their financial standing, education, health statuses, and their understanding of marriage.

And in the three years since the enforcement, Idris said, the number of applications for underage marriages showed a reduction of 787 cases in comparison to the three years prior to the enforcement started.

He told the Dewan Rakyat that there were 2,098 approved cases of Muslim underage marriage applications nationwide between 1 September 2018 to 31 October this year, whereas a total of 2,885 approvals were recorded for underage Muslim marriage applications from 1 September 2015 to 31 August 2018.

Which states rejected the proposal?

While Idris did not name the states, Kasthuri, in her supplementary question, said that so far only Selangor has officially amended its law to make 18 the minimum age for marriage. It was done in 2018.

Other states that have agreed to amend their respective laws include Penang, Sabah, Johor, Melaka, Perak, and the Federal Territories — Kuala Lumpur, Labuan, and Putrajaya.

As such the states that have refused to cooperate or express a desire to increase the minimum marriage age limit are Sarawak, Pahang, Perlis, Terengganu, Negeri Sembilan, Kedah, and Kelantan.

When questioned by Kasthuri if the minister had any plans to lobby the remaining states to join in amending their respective Shariah enactments, Idris said that any issue pertaining to Islamic affairs falls under the sole jurisdiction of the states and that the federal government respects this right.

PAS Senator Idris Ahmad.

Image via Melaka Hari Ini

Meanwhile, Sisters In Islam (SIS), a Muslim women's rights group, has slammed Idris and questioned if the government is going to gamble the future of young Malaysians by allowing child marriages to continue

"The government should guarantee the health, education, safety, and welfare of all children and foster a Malaysian mentality that child marriages are irresponsible and will only ruin the future of children," it said.

The group highlighted that Malaysia is the worst regional performer in the Global Gender Gap Report 2021.

"Malaysia is ranked 112 out of 156 countries. At the same time, Malaysia is ranked last in [ASEAN]. Myanmar (rank 109), Cambodia (rank 103), Indonesia (rank 99), Vietnam (rank 87) have better positions than Malaysia," SIS said, adding that Malaysia's failure to manage the issue of child marriage properly will leave the country far behind in trying to achieve gender equality and to close the gender gap in the global index.

Prior to this, the previous Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration had in January 2020 launched a national plan to end child marriage

Called the National Strategic Plan to Address the Causes of Underage Marriage, it identified six causes of underage marriage in Malaysia which the PH administration had planned to individually tackle.

The six causes that the government had wanted to tackle, included:
- Low household income and poverty,
- Lack or no access to sexual reproductive health education and parenting skills,
- Lack of access to education and poor school attendance,
- Stigma and social norms that dictate underage marriage is the best solution to address problems,
- Loose laws that provide for marriage under the age of 18, and
- Coordination of marital data and underage divorce.

The plan, encompassing seven objectives, 17 strategies, and 58 programmes to address the causes, was to be carried out in the next five years. However, the PH administration fell a month later in February 2020.

Child marriage remains an epidemic in Malaysia:

A former child bride shared her regrets about being married so young:

On the other hand, Malaysia's neighbouring countries such as Thailand and the Philippines have taken steps to eradicate child marriage:

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