PETALING JAYA: Mutual consent, as in the case of the Tumpat child marriage case, should not be used as an excuse to cast away safeguards on children’s rights.
Wanita MCA Chairman Datuk Heng Seai Kie (pic) was referring to a statement by Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail on the recent child marriage case in Tumpat, Kelantan.
Earlier, Dr Wan Azizah, who is also Women, Family and Community Development Minister, had said the Tumpat case, between a 15-year-old girl and a 44-year-old Rela member, was consensual, and there was “mutual liking” between the couple.
In the two months since the Gua Musang child marriage case broke, Heng said the ministry had been dodging its responsibility and not solving the problem.
She said child marriage did not depend on whether the underage bride consented or not, but rested on the fact that the body and emotions of minors below 18 years old needed to be safeguarded.
“They do not have sufficient life experiences or the maturity to decide their own lifelong events, moreover adolescence is a golden age for self-discovery and improvement,” Heng added.
She also pointed out that per Section 511 of the Child Act 2001, sexual relations with girls below 16 years old, whether consensual or not, was statutory rape, and moreover, the legal age to be considered an adult in Malaysia was 18 years.
“What reason can the Women Ministry provide as to why they had considered the 15-year old girl to be liable for her own words and deeds?” Heng asked, asking if the ministry would also be accepting it if a 7-year-old claimed she was willing to marry an adult male.
Heng also referred to other statements by Dr Wan Azizah, such as the federal government having to recognise the marriage as it was solemnised by the Syariah court.
“Unfortunately, avoiding action encourages the bad culture of child marriages in Malaysia, Dr Wan Azizah and the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry under Pakatan Harapan would be best remembered as the debauchers of the body and soul of underage children,” she stated.
Heng said Wanita MCA supported a move to class child marriage as a criminal offence under federal law, either through Section 611 of the Child Act 2001, Section 792 of the Sexual Offences Against
Children Act 2017, and the Penal Code.
“ Irrespective of religious beliefs or ethnic background, the government must demonstrate its determination to defend the rights and safety of minor children,” Heng said.