PETALING JAYA: Malaysian authorities must double their efforts to end child marriages, said a United Nations (UN) human rights expert.
In a statement on Thursday (Oct 4), UN special rapporteur Maud de Boer-Buquicchio called on the Government to enter into a dialogue with religious communities and judges who continue to grant exceptions under "certain circumstances" that allow the marriage of children of any age under Syariah law.
"I recognise the complexity of the parallel legal systems in Malaysia, including the differences between laws at Federal and State level. Child marriage practices in Malaysia are often driven by poverty, patriarchal structures, customs and misconceptions around pre-marital sex.
"To help a child climb out of poverty, you must educate her, not marry her," de Boer-Buquicchio said in a UN report.
She, however, lauded Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail's efforts in encouraging discussions to raise the minimum age of marriage for girls, adding that the momentum must be seized to put an end to this "harmful practice" that "affects children irreparably".
Aside from child marriage, de Boer-Buquicchio commended the Government for the steps taken to ensure online safety and stop the spreading of child abuse material through the adoption of the Sexual Offences Against Children Act 2017, as well as the setting up of Special Courts for Sexual Crimes Against Children.
During her visit to Malaysia, de Boer-Buquicchio held discussions with state officials, at both the Federal and State level, including from Sarawak, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, the Malaysian Bar Council, representatives of civil society and the private sector, as well as with children.
She is to present the findings and key recommendations from her visit in a report to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2019.