Thursday, April 06, 2017

Malaysian Child Brides

Malaysia considered outlawing child marriage without success. Instead, an MP said nine-year-old girls are "physically and spiritually ready for marriage."

Malaysia on Tuesday passed the Sexual Offences against Children Bill 2017, protecting anyone below 18 years of age from sexual abuse, but stopped short of outlawing child marriage.

Besides criminalizing child grooming, the new bill boasts extra-territorial jurisdiction, not only protecting Malaysian children from local and foreign predators, but also making Malaysians liable to prosecution for committing similar offenses abroad.

Shabudin Yahaya, a member of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition,  contended that girls "reach puberty at the age of nine or 12. And at that time, their body is already akin to them being 18 years old. So physically and spiritually, it is not a barrier for the girl to marry." Shabudin, a former Shariah (Islamic law) court judge, further incensed Malaysians by arguing that there was "nothing wrong" with a rape victim marrying her rapist as she would then not face a "bleak future." the Joint Action Group on Gender Equality, a coalition of Malaysian women's groups, released a statement saying, "This statement is damaging as it misrepresents the term 'consent,' disregards the law on statutory rape and dismisses the reality of power imbalance that exists in cases of underage marriages. 

"Statutory rape in the Penal Code is defined as any sexual activity with a girl under the age of 16, as she is unable to understand the nature and consequence of giving 'consent.' We should not mitigate the crime of statutory rape by allowing or encouraging marriage to the perpetrator."
In Malaysia, the minimum marriage age is 16 for Muslim girls and 18 for Muslim boys. However, younger girls can marry with permission from their parents and the Shariah courts. The provision can be exploitative as a Muslim girl can technically be married off upon attaining puberty. For non-Muslims, the minimum age is 18, but girls as young as 16 can marry if they obtain permission from their state's chief minister or under the customary laws of the East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak. Rights groups, including Islamic feminist groups, have been fighting for the minimum marriage age to be set at 18 years regardless of gender and religion, in line with the Child Act 2001 which defines a "child" as a person under 18.

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