Protecting our children from child marriages

– Syerleena Abdul Rashid
The Malaysian Insider
18 December 2014

Throughout the world, marriage is still regarded as a sacred union between an adult man and an adult woman. Marriage, along with birth and death, signal key defining moments of a human being’s life – the beginning, the passage and the end. Therefore, matrimonial unions often warrant grandiose celebrations from every culture and society.

But the practice of child marriages is inexcusable and such unions do not warrant any kind of celebration.

There are several reasons why parents impose early marriage upon their children, some view marriage as a means to alleviate themselves from poverty by providing some form of brief economic relief (e.g. dowry, handing over responsibility of raising a child to someone else) but mostly, in our country’s case, it is seen as a method to protect children from immoral sexual activities.

Although proper sex education would be a better answer, bringing up such topics are still frowned upon in traditional and conservative societies. Most view child marriage as a way to preserve “honour” and protecting their children from immoral activities by legitimising a courtship. These parents may believe that they are doing the right thing, but are unconcerned about the long term implication child marriages will have on their children and society.

According to the UN, it is estimated that between 2011 and 2020, over 140 million children – mostly, girls, will become child brides. Even though, Malaysia has adopted the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) which actively endorses to end child marriages and to protect the rights of children by honoring civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights; statistical data shows otherwise.

Since early 2014, the Malaysian Shariah Judiciary Department has approximately 600 marriage applications. Children below the ages of 16 years old will need the approval of the Shariah Court and so far, approximately 446 of these applications have been approved. Based on these figures alone it is seemingly clear that child marriage is increasing in our country and this is a major concern for everyone.

Most recently, in Johor, a 15 year old boy dropped out of school after marrying a 17 year old girl following a two month courtship. The boy proudly claimed to be ready albeit being at the age where boys are slowly discovering their bodies and gaining important life experiences that can shape them into balanced adults. Such remarks only exhibit the level of naiveté and immaturity on the boy’s part for not understanding the mental responsibilities that are associated with matrimonial unions. More questionable are the parents’ decisions to allow such unions to take place at such a crucial age of cognitive development.

Young girls who marry early expose them to the risks of pregnancy that is physically damaging and psychological harmful. Complications of pregnancy and child birth are reported to have been the leading cause of death for young women below the ages of 18. Early marriages raise the questions of proper childcare and the quality of parenthood. How can society expect children to raise children effectively and expect our society to progress?

Child marriage is a gross violation of human rights as it robs children of their adolescence and proper education. It puts both the bride and the bridegroom in situations where the level or quality of education is severely compromised, hence, directly prohibiting them from actively participating in this country’s labour force. It simply blocks any opportunity for them to gain skills, develop proficiency and mature as coherent adults in an increasingly globalized culture.

Next year will be a very important year for this country; Malaysia will take on the Asean chairmanship for a year and will sit on the non-permanent UN Security Council for the next two years – our country will be subjected to intense scrutiny by international communities. Our government has a moral obligation to ensure that the rights of its citizens, especially our children are protected – at all costs. – December 18, 2014.

* Syerleena Abdul Rashid serves as Dapsy Bukit Bendera secretary and DAP Wanita Bukit Bendera political education director.

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