State addresses polygamous marriage

Fatimah (seated, centre) in discussion with her officers before the press conference.

KUCHING: It is compulsory for district offices to check with the state National Registration Department (NRD) on marital status of non-Muslims registering for customary marriage.

This was to avoid complications that would arise if a particular person was still married under civil law, said Welfare, Community Well Being, Women, Family and Childhood Development Minister Datuk Fatimah Abdullah.

In December last year, NRD and the Sarawak Native Customs Council set up a Native Marriage Electronic System (Names) to register in a database, couples who got married under customary law.

The system will help NRD trace individuals from entering into a polygamous marriage either through civil or customary marriage.

“When a person registers for a civil marriage, NRD will screen if the person was ever married, especially under customary law. The district officer and community leaders, who can act as a marriage registrar, also need to check if an individual applying for customary marriage was previously married under civil law.

“We need to address the scenario where a person is discreetly married to two individuals,” she told reporters after chairing a meeting with NRD.

Fatimah said from January to April this year, 167 individuals attempted to register for a civil marriage despite still being tied to previous marriage under customary law.

One of the problems that cropped up from discreet polygamous marriage through customary law was the registration of children for identification documents, especially if it involved a foreigner.

Under the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976, properties and inheritance of a man found married to two women at the same time would go to the spouse and children from the first marriage if he did not leave any will, said Fatimah.

She added that only the first marriage was recognised whether through civil or customary law.

“A strategic collaboration between the district offices and NRD has been effective to stop married individuals from trying to register for another marriage.

“The ministry will propose to the Chief Minister’s Department to make it compulsory for the district office to check the marital status of individuals registering for marriage under customary law.

“The NRD will prepare the relevant forms for the purpose, which will place in all district offices. We need to protect the sanctity of the family institution, especially the wife and children,” she said.

In Malaysia, it is illegal for non-Muslims to be involved in a polygamous marriage.

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