PETALING JAYA: Child brides cannot fully understand what romantic love, commitment and marriage mean, say experts.
Malaysian Mental Health Association president Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj (pic) said child brides below the age of 18 were still developing – physically and emotionally.
“They are still developing their thoughts and social skills. So, they cannot yet fully understand the concept of romantic love, commitment and marriage.
“She lacks the maturity required for one to be in a mutually respecting romantic relationship,” said the psychiatrist.
Malaysians were shocked by the news of a 41-year-old man from Gua Musang, Kelantan, taking an 11-year-old girl as his third wife.
The controversial marriage was solemnised in Thailand. The girl’s parents had consented to the marriage but imposed a “condition” that their daughter would only be allowed to live with the “husband” when she turns 16.
Bernama reported that the Kelantan police have opened an investigation paper on the child mariage yesterday.
State police chief Datuk Hasanuddin Hassan said although there was no criminal element involved in the marriage, an investigation paper was opened on grounds that the girl was an underage bride.
Unicef child protection specialist Sivaselvi Supramaniam said it was “unnatural” for a young child to say she was in love.
“She has very likely been groomed by this predator and not even know it,” she said.
Furthermore, Sivaselvi said child brides were incapable of giving their consent to marriage.
“Child marriage must be viewed within a context of force and coercion, involving pressure and emotional blackmail.
“Child marriage must therefore always be considered forced marriage because valid consent is absent – and often considered unnecessary,” she said.
She said that marriage demanded the ability and willingness of both husband and wife to bear its responsibilities.
“It is not right to apply this burden on a child,” Sivaselvi said.
Voice of the Children chairman Sharmila Sekaran said it was statutory rape if a person had sex with a girl below the age of 16.
“It is rape as consent is irrelevant. Because below the age of 16, you cannot know, truly and fully, what you are consenting to.
“So, how can an 11-year-old consent to getting married?” questioned Sharmila.
“If you can’t consent to having sex, how can you consent to marriage, when marriage is far more than just an act of sex.”
Child brides also face mental health issues that will stay with them throughout their life.
“Studies have shown that clinical depression and anxiety disorder are common among child brides,” said Dr Andrew.
“The responsibility of being a wife at such a young age can overwhelm the child bride.
“Because they are still children, they don’t have the level of maturity to handle the responsibility that falls upon a wife, and later a mother,” he said.
Dr Andrew said child brides often did not finish their education and were deprived of the normal activities most children go through growing up.
“So, they tend to have self-esteem and self-confidence issues,” he said.
Girls who are married young are also more vulnerable to domestic violence and sexual abuse.
Often enough, child brides are introduced to sex at a very young age.
“They may think they are in love and may not be psychologically prepared for sex.
“And they may not have a choice in the matter.
“Child brides do not have the means to speak for themselves, and they are usually under their husband’s control,” Dr Andrew said.
He cited a World Health Organization (WHO) report that revealed how the lifespan of child brides were cut short.
“The WHO says that complications of pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death in girls aged 15 to 19 worldwide.
“It found that women who marry later and have children tend to be healthier and live longer,” Dr Andrew said.
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