PETALING JAYA: Wanita MCA has urged the Government to make child marriages a criminal offence under Federal law.
Wanita chief Datuk Heng Seai Kie said irrespective of race or religion, child marriages must be strictly prohibited as a way to demonstrate the nation’s determination to defend children’s safety and rights.
Heng also lambasted Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail's handling of the issue of child marriage cases in Kelantan, adding that it was regrettable and disappointing that the Government has not increased the minimum legal marriage age to 18.
Heng said a country cannot have two legal systems, especially in dealing with matters related to the safeguarding of basic rights and interests of minors and children.
“Violations against minors and children have far-reaching implications and thus legislation and enforcement must not be delayed anymore," she said in a statement on Wednesday (Sept 19).
“While religion is a state matter, child marriages and sexual violations against underaged children should not be categorised as a religious or state matter.
She said child marriage can be made a criminal offence under Federal law, either in Section 611 of the Children’s Act 2001, Section 792 of the Sexual Offences Against Children Act 2017 or in the Penal Code.
“After all, safeguarding children’s safety and rights is the common social responsibility of everyone and the common mission for all of us.”
“There must be urgency in enacting legislation to protect children’s rights and safety,” she added.
Heng said it is even more complicated and confusing that the legal age to marry is determined by the respective state Governments and state religious authorities.
Heng said it is imperative that the Federal Constitution should be amended to have uniformity in the legal age for marriage -- that the minimum legal age to marry be raised to 18 for both male and female, and thus resolving the problems surrounding the issue once and for all.
She added that provisions under the Federal Constitution provide that if State constitutions conflict with Federal laws, then the latter (Federal laws) take precedence.
“In view of the child marriage cases that have been exposed in the past few months, Dr Wan Azizah, despite also holding the Women, Family and Community Development portfolio, has failed to defend the rights of minors, but instead shirked the responsibility as coming under state syariah court,” said Heng.
Heng added that Dr Wan Azizah’s deputy minister Hannah Yeoh said that the Federal Government must speak to state governments to achieve the goal of standardising the legal marriage age in the country.
“Statistics from 2007 to 2017 show that there were 10,000 cases of Muslim child marriages and 4,999 child marriage cases among non-Muslims.
“If Yeoh realises the seriousness of the child marriage case, why does she not move further from a mere announcement to take action?” asked Heng.
In Tumpat, a 15-year-old girl was recently married off as a second wife to a 44-year-old man by her family because they did not want their youngest daughter to continue living a life of poverty.
The father Che Rahim Che Deraman, 60, confirmed that the marriage was solemnised in July upon the consent of the Syariah Court as the groom had to seek permission to engage in polygamy.
Che Rahim, who has 13 children, said all of them were now married.
In June, it was reported that a 41-year-old rubber tapper married an 11-year-old Thai girl in Gua Musang, Kelantan.