HYPOTHETICAL situation: a 15-year-old girl and her 17-year-old boyfriend had sex, and the girl becomes pregnant. What happens then?
There are a few options. Both families could work together to help raise the child, while the couple continue to focus on their studies.
The couple could go for counselling and receive support from social services to raise the child as co-parents.
Foster care could also be an option, however unpalatable, for financially disadvantaged families who can’t afford to care for the child.
Or, as a certain Member of Parliament recently suggested, the couple could just get married. Problem solved. Really?
Now this is where it stops being hypothetical.
The Star, especially its R.AGE team, has worked with a number of NGOs, activists, lawyers, child rights advocates, etc. who have dealt with child marriages.
And what they tell us is quite frightening.
These experts can tell us how such cases usually go down.
It is hard to believe but there are quite a number of child marriages in Malaysia every year.
First of all, the children will most likely leave school, and get cut off from their peers, stunting their social development and creating a potential cycle of poverty for the young family.
The girl is also usually married into her husband’s family, so she will likely face what one criminologist calls a “power imbalance” in the marriage, which leads to domestic violence and sexual abuse.
Physiologically, the girl again has to bear the brunt.
Pregnancy is tough even for adult women, but for a child, it can be devastating.
The World Health Organisation estimates that girls aged 10 to 14 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women 10 years older.
In short, that’s why all the experts agree - child marriages are always wrong.
There are no exceptions to the rule, no “special cases”, no religious grounds to argue on.
The very concept of child marriage is fundamentally detrimental and dangerous to children.
According to a joint report by Unicef and Al-Azhar University entitled “Peace Love Tolerance (Key messages from Islam and Christianity on protecting children from violence and harmful practices): “Child marriage is no more than a custom; it is not part of the religion or worship and it leads without doubt to significant adverse effects.
“Therefore, the preferred age of marriage is after the age of 18 years
Marriage is a religious and social responsibility that demands the ability and willingness of both husband and wife to bear the responsibilities that come with the union, so it is not right to apply this burden to children.”
Tasek Gelugor MP Datuk Shabudin Yahaya claimed that the media spun his words when reporting on his remarks in Parliament that girls as young as nine are “physically and spiritually” ready for marriage.
Let’s put aside the fact that The Star has published the video of his remarks in its entirety.
Let’s put aside that everything he said in Parliament that day is recorded in the Hansard.
Let’s assume he’s right, and the media misinterpreted what he said.
Even then, the facts remain.
Child marriages are still always wrong.