Confronting child marriages nationwide: “Concrete action needed,” says SIS

SISTERS in Islam (SIS) said while recent news reports of an 82.8% decline in child marriages in Selangor between 2018 and 2022 is welcoming, the fact that there are still glaring gaps in addressing this pressing issue on a national scale cannot be ignored.

According to the civil society organisation, the reported success in Selangor, as presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council, demands a critical examination of the overall situation in the country.

“The Women, Family and Community Development Ministry’s assertion that Selangor’s progress is an exemplar of the National Strategic Plan in Handing the Causes of Child Marriage 2020–2025 raises essential questions about the efficacy of these strategies in states beyond Selangor,” SIS said in a statement on Monday (Feb 5).

“The ongoing mid-term review of the strategic plan, as disclosed in Geneva, prompts SIS to insist on transparency and urgency in rectifying any shortcomings.

“It is unacceptable that child marriages persist despite comprehensive initiatives and data available.”

SIS said commendable efforts in Selangor and Kedah, where the legal minimum age of marriage has been raised to 18, emphasised the positive impact of legal reform.

However, the lack of uniform progress across states raises concerns about the commitment to eradicating child marriages at the national level.

“We reiterate the call for religious authorities to acknowledge the adverse consequences of child marriages and join the effort to protect young girls and urge the government to intensify engagement with states resisting the raising of the legal age for marriage, prioritising the wellbeing of the child over outdated practices,” the NGO stated.

“In 2019, the then Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail informed the Dewan Rakyat that the Federal Territories were currently in the process of amending (their laws to raise the legal minimum age of marriage) while Johor, Melaka, Penang, Perak, and Sabah had consented to do so.

“SIS questions why, despite these assurances, the progress remains at such a preliminary stage. This stagnation in protecting the rights of women and children is a stark reflection of the government’s lack of political will to ensure the well-being of all in society, not just a privileged few.”

Imperative for nationwide ban

(Pic credit: UNICEF)

SIS said reflecting on its 2019 plea to Putrajaya and inquiries about the involvement of the Children’s Commissioner in the National Strategic Plan, the slow or lack of progress and regional disparities persist giving concerns, that couples could potentially exploit legal loopholes across states among other things.

“A nationwide ban is imperative to protect all citizens, especially the vulnerable among us, children and women,” SIS reckoned.

“It should be noted that child marriage locks girls out of learning, puts their health and wellbeing at risk and compromises their future.

“What legacy does the nation seek if it fails to enact reforms that protect its most vulnerable members of society? There seems to be a lack of political will from Putrajaya on all things women related.

“Despite promises made earlier in 2019 nothing substantial has come to fruition. SIS calls for concrete, swift actions, and genuine efforts to convince other states like Kelantan, Negri Sembilan, Pahang, Sarawak, Terengganu and all other states to raise the age for marriages for both Muslims and natives.

“We emphasise the urgent need for concrete action, not just promises. We call on the government to demonstrate unwavering commitment to protecting the rights of all citizens, irrespective of their geographic location.” – Feb 5, 2024


Main pic credit: The Star

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