Child marriages have always been at the forefront of discussion — a heavily debatable topic that has yet to reach a consensus in Malaysia. Before delving deeper into this topic, here’s a quick breakdown on child marriages according to the International Women’s Health Coalition!
Child marriage is generally understood to mean marriages that take place before the age of 18 however, for many girls, marriage occurs much earlier. In some countries, this would take place as young as 7 or 8 where girls are forced by their families to marry much older men. There are many factors as to why this takes place. The most prominent reasons include, poverty where girls are deemed as a financial burden to their families, norms and beliefs indoctrinated via traditions that emphasise on the fact that marriage is a phase of womanhood as well as, a survival mechanism where marrying off daughters in the circumstance where the parents are unable to feed and educate all their children.
The statistics of child marriage is shocking too! According to the United Nations, 37,000 girls under the age of 18 are married each day and if the present trend continues, more than 140 million girls will be married before the age of 18 in the next decade! The global statistics regarding this matter might seem a tad bit unimportant for Malaysians. After all, what does this have to do with our country, right? Well, you’re wrong!
From January to September 2020, there were 543 child marriages including applications recorded in our country with Sarawak being the highest reported figures. This low figure might be contributed by the pandemic which has restricted our movements. That’s not all! In August 2018, both the JKSM and NRD reported that there were 5,362 applications for marriages below the age of 18 for Muslim couples from 2013 to 2017 while there were 2,367 marriages below the age of 18 for non-Muslim couples. This is a worrying figure, indeed!
In relation to this, several Malaysian Twitter users have chided child marriages on the popular social media application. Twitter user, @emmelynnamal, claimed that she agreed to child marriages previously because it was permissible in Islam. However, when she started working as a social worker, predominantly with at-risk children, her biggest caseload was child marriages. She had seen children as young as 9 and 10 years old, being forced to be married off to males 10 to 20 years older than themselves.
Some of these girls were even trafficked to the country as mail order brides. These children were being robbed out of their childhood when in reality, they truly desire to go to school, to read and to write. They were also subject to domestic violence inflicted by their husbands and many child brides have died giving birth. Some were even forced to leave their children at the hospital as they can’t afford to pay for the baby’s treatment.
Sex-education among these girls were non-existent as they didn’t know that sex could cause pregnancy. Adding on, the user said that she was heartbroken by this and dug deeper into child marriages. It was then, she found out a fatwa issued by Al Azhar Clerics on the subject matter. Based on the statement given, it was shown that Islam was against child marriage after all! Another article issued by MAIWIP, shows that child marriage should not be practised, with exceptions.
She also chided individuals who claimed that the ban towards child marriage is part of a Western agenda! According to her, even Indonesia has banned child marriages. Furthermore, she stated that Selangor has increased the age of child marriages for Muslims therefore, there should be no room for certain individuals to claim that it’s unsuitable to ban child marriages in Malaysia.
While some people might argue with the fact that perhaps, if the marriage was consensual and both parties love each other, that wouldn’t be a crime right? Again, you’re wrong!
Another Twitter user, @miladyliaa_ said that she was a victim of the scenario aforementioned. At the age of 17, she was legally married to a man 15 years older than her — because they loved each other. She clearly regrets the incident and claims that what happened was partly her fault because she was a stubborn and egoistic teen. At that age, she thought that she was mature enough to be making a life-changing decision and since nobody could stop her since legally it wasn’t wrong, she proceeded to marry the guy.
When arguing with her father, the strongest point that she had used was the word, “legal”. Instead of experiencing the happily ever after ending that she dreamt of, she was instead pushed into a life where she was pregnant at 17 and her husband neglected her needs physically and emotionally. It came to a point where her parents had to take care of their finances.
After giving birth, she dropped out of school and started working. The husband’s salary wasn’t enough and she lived an uncomfortable life but nevertheless, she was loyal to him. Claiming that she was lucky that her father still loved her and her child, she was too lazy to fight with her husband who always responded, “Then, why did you pick me?” when confronted.
Adding on to her experience, she said that claims of underage marriage not being harmful is quite biased. The experience mentally scarred her especially with the gaslighting, blame, emotional abuse and neglect that she had gone through. Thankfully, she’s now divorced.
So, with this insight on child marriages, it is crystal clear that this practice is harmful to a child’s psychological development and it hinders the abilities of girls to thrive in this world! Let them embrace their childhood and adolescence. Give them books and stationeries, not kitchen appliances!