PETALING JAYA: Child marriages rob boys and girls of their rights and dignity, says Unicef Malaysia.
"Whether it happens to a girl or a boy, child marriage robs children of their childhood, their rights and their dignity.
"Child marriage, which frequently inhibits a child's basic rights to health, education and protection from harm, is condemned in international conventions, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Malaysia acceded to 21 years ago," it said in a statement on Tuesday.
Unicef said young brides are often isolated, removed from immediate families, taken out of school and denied interaction with their peers and communities, adding that this puts girls at risk of early and unwanted pregnancies, posing life-threatening consequences.
"Child marriage, as so rightly put by the Minister of Women, Family and Community Development Datuk Seri Rohani Abdul Karim a couple of weeks ago, is a serious violation of human rights that impacts all aspects of a child’s life, especially girls," said Unicef.
It said that in Malaysia, parents may consent to child marriages to avoid shame due to premarital sex and pregnancy outside marriage. Child marriages may be seen as a way to provide male guardianship for their daughters, to mitigate further legal sanctions due to being apprehended for khalwat, and to cover up instances of sexual violence, such as rape, according to Unicef.
It said that in its initial report to the Government, the Committee on the Rights of the Child had emphasised that the minimum age for marriage with and without parental consent be set to 18 years, for both boys and girls.
"There are reports which suggest the existence of mail order child brides arriving to be wed to migrants now living in Malaysia. The exact numbers of children entering into marriage are not fully known due to under-reporting and the fact that a lot of customary marriages are not registered."
It said that efforts by Unicef and its partners to end child marriage globally, experiences in contexts as diverse as Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Ethiopia, India, Niger, Senegal and Somalia, had shown how combining legal measures with support to communities yielded positive results.
Unicef added that more than 700 million girls and women alive today were married before their 18th birthday.
Despite the fact that the proportion of child brides has decreased over the last 30 years, Unicef said child marriage persists at high rates in several regions of the world, particularly in rural areas and among the poorest.
"Providing viable alternatives, especially schooling, and enabling communities to discuss and reach the explicit, collective decision to end child marriage, yield positive results.
“In Malaysia, Unicef's commitment to end child marriage remains one of our priorities, in partnership with government and other stakeholders for children," it said.