Lower marital age regressive, exploitative

KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah Law Society (SLS) categorically opposes the recent statement by the Sabah Mufti Datuk Bungsu @ Aziz Jaafar that the marriageable age of Muslims in Sabah be lowered to 14 for girls and 16 for boys.

Such a proposal is regressive, exploitative, and destructive to the future of a child, it said in a statement Wednesday.

“Malaysia, having ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child on 17th February 1995 (CRC), is obliged to take all available measures to make sure that children are protected, and their rights are respected and upheld. The CRC is an international treaty that recognises the human rights of children, defined as persons up to the age of eighteen years old. The CRC reflects the new vision of a child, that they are neither the property of their parents nor are they the helpless objects of charity.”

“They are human beings and are the subject of their own rights. In this respect children have rights to physical protection, food, education, and health care which are essential and appropriate for their development into adulthood. They should not be getting married and having babies when they themselves are juveniles and are still vulnerable, and in need of physical, mental, and emotional nurturing.”

Dominic Ghani, the Chairman of the Human Rights Sub-Committee of the SLS stated, “We believe and acknowledge that child marriages are not merely confined to the Muslim community but occur in the native communities as well.

Both the Islamic authorities and native customary heads would be wise to ensure that the respective religious texts / customary rights are to be progressively interpreted and to exercise their discretion cautiously until there is legislative intervention to ensure a minimum age of 18.”

“Only those beneficial practices which are in the best interest of all segments of humanity should be encouraged and observed. We therefore believe that the issue of child marriages involves a spectrum of interplay between a responsible government, removal of archaic policies detrimental to society at large and acceptance of the moral issues impacting or affecting upon our youths today.”

He further stated that “child marriages were a practice during the medieval era or dark ages (between the 5th and 15th century) and had existed then partly due to the fact that the life expectancy of an individual was generally less than 40 years of age due to war, disease, and famine. Now children should be given the freedom of choice and the right to decide who they want to marry when they reach the age of maturity.”

“Legally speaking, if they are not allowed to work, drive, or vote at 14, they should not be allowed to get married too.”

In response to the suggestion that a marriage is required to legitimise children born out of wedlock, the SLS is of the view that more emphasis needs to be placed on reproductive education and family planning as well advocating the health risks associated with having children below the age of 18.

The SLS therefore welcomes the recent statement by the Deputy Prime Minister cum Minister of Women, Family and Community Development, Dato’ Seri Dr. Wan Azizah Dr. Wan Ismail that the Federal Government “will raise the

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