Malaysia to have tighter rules on child marriages

KUALA LUMPUR: Laws governing child marriages will be tightened, says Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.

“The amendments, among others, will include the requirements that social, health and police reports are submitted for application for underage marriages, which comes under the purview of the Home Ministry,” said the Deputy Prime Minister.

She was replying to a question raised by Khairy Jamaluddin (BN-Rembau) in Parliament on Thursday (Nov 15).

Dr Wan Azizah said the amendments will cover both civil and Islamic marriages and make it a requirement for relevant agencies to submit reports before such marriages are allowed.

Tthe amendments will be tabled in Parliament by the middle of next year (2019). 

“For non-Muslim marriages, Cabinet papers to amend the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 will be tabled at the Cabinet in 2019.

Dr Wan Azizah, who is Women, Family and Community Development Minister, said amendments will be made to the Islamic Family Law (Federal Territories) Act 1984 for underage marriages under Islamic law where the reports must be submitted to a Syariah Court judge.

At present, she said the government had tightened approval for underage marriages whose procedures are governed by the Home Ministry, Syariah and customary courts.

She said the Syariah Judiciary Department's standard operating procedure (SOP) on Muslim underage marriage was issued to Syariah courts nationwide on July 23.

“Under the SOP, the state Welfare Department and Health Department, and state police, must submit a social, health and police report if a Syariah judge finds it necessary for consideration in an application for an underage marriage,” she added.

Dr Wan Azizah said the reports would contain information on the applicant's background, income, social status, and education level.

“This will help the Syariah judge in coming to a decision that will protect those involved in underage marriages,” she said.

The Federal Government is also trying to raise the minimum age of marriage to 18.

Dr Wan Azizah said her ministry tabled the Government's intention at the pre-meeting of the Council of Rulers and at the Meeting of Chief Ministers and Mentri Besars on Oct 16.

"The ministry is grateful and appreciates the positive feedback when it was tabled at both meetings, which in principle welcomed the Government's proposal to raise the minimum age of marriage to 18," she said.

She noted that the Meeting of Chief Ministers and Mentri Besars had specifically agreed, in consensus, that minimum marriage age should be raised to 18.

However, Dr Wan Azizah said that so far, only Selangor had raised the age to 18, two months ago.

She added that Melaka, Penang, Kedah, Johor and Sabah had indicated their intention to raise the minimum marriageable age to 18 (but had yet to do so).

(Under Malaysia's Constitution, Islamic law, including the age of marriage for Muslims, is considered to be under state, not federal, jusrisdiction.)

To a question by William Leong (PH-Selayang), Dr  Wan Azizah told lawmakers that the marriageable age in Britain, Canada and Australia was 16, while there was no minimum age for certain states in the United States.

Child marriage became a national issue in July after it was reported that a 41-year-old man in Gua Musang, Kelantan, had taken an 11-year-old girl as his third wife.

There were also reports of another marriage in Tumpat, Kelantan, where a 15-year-old girl married a man nearly 30 years older than her.

On Tuesday (Nov 13), a group of civil society activists and school students staged a peaceful demonstration in front of Parliament to urge the government to ban child marriages.

Note: We have amended our headline to better reflect what the Deputy Prime Minister said in Parliament.

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