Finish studies, not marriage: UNICEF

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Marianne Clark with Shafie during the courtesy call yesterday

KOTA KINABALU: Children should be given the opportunity to finish secondary education rather than engaging in marriage.

Maintaining 18 as the minimum age of marriage, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) representative to Malaysia Marianne Clark Hattingh said legislation alone was not enough.

The move, she said, should also be backed by other measures including support and education on the effects of child marriage particularly on girls.

“(We need) to ensure young people can finish secondary education, sexual reproductive health education and also make communities and families aware of the adverse effects on child marriage – on girl child especially.

“There should also be a social protection system to target children vulnerable to dropping out of school or to child marriage so that marriage is not seen as a solution for teenage pregnancies or poverty,” she said.

She was speaking to reporters after paying a courtesy call to Chief Minister Datuk Mohd Shafie Apdal at his office here yesterday.

The issue of child marriage had been making headlines recently particularly following the Sabah Mufti Datuk Bungsu Aziz Jaafar’s proposal for the minimum age of marriage for Muslims to be lowered to 14 and 16 for girls and boys respectively.

Shafie had stated that the government will consider all expert opinions and that the Law and Native Affairs Minister, former Shariah court judge Datuk Aidi Moktar will evaluate every opinion before deciding on the final minimum age limit.

According to Marianne, it was among the issues brought to the discussion with Shafie, who was receptive to the matter.

“He was very receptive to that; he has, as you know, expressed the need to study the issue and to come up with solutions so we’re willing to support that process,” she disclosed.

Other priorities, she said, were issues of undocumented children, facilitating birth registration, access to education especially for remote and indigenous people of Sabah as well as inclusive education for children with disabilities.

By DK RYNI QAREENA

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