RANAU: Teachers and the community at large have an important role to play in providing sufficient early education and awareness to avoid child marriages, says Sabah's Assistant Health and People’s Well-being Minister Norazlinah Arif.
She said teachers and the Parent-Teacher Associations (PTA) should report to the relevant authorities if they came across cases where students drop out of school to be married off.
“It is society's responsibility to think about the children's future as they are the nation's future leaders.
The community needs to understand the challenges and impact of child marriages.
"Government bodies, non-governmental organisations, community leaders and the general public therefore need to be more concerned over the seriousness of this issue," she stressed.
Norazlinah said this when launching an awareness programme on the issue of child marriages at the rural SMK Ulu Sugut hall here Tuesday (July 9), which saw the paraticipation of teenagers, parents, school counsellors and community leaders.
She noted that despite legal provisions for marriages to be limited to those above 18, communities in the state still allowed their children to marry before the age of 18.
“Although the law has provisions for marriages, some communities still allow marriages without considering the age of the child.
“Marriage between a boy and girl below 18 years of age would be psychologically stressful, including where education, health, economy, as well as decision-making, are concerned, and it would be a crime against children.
"The children concerned could not continue their education, thus would not have sources of income and have to carry the burden of family life at a young age.
"If a baby is born, care and welfare of their offspring will also be a challenge, among others," she said.
Meanwhile on the awareness programme organised by the Sabah Women's Affairs Department (Jhewa), Norazlinah hoped it could be extended to other districts across the state, especially in remote villages.
She said through such programmes, guidance could be given to target groups to help them understand the psychology, personality, regulations, marriage, family living and reproductive health, as well as counselling.
According to international standards, child marriage is defined as any marriage carried out below the age of 18.
However, for Muslims, the minimum age of marriage is 16 for girls and 18 for boys.