PETALING JAYA: Although the debate on child marriages has often focused on Muslims, nuptials among non-Muslims below the age of 18 have gone up by about 20% annually in the past four years, with concerned groups blaming this on rising urban poverty and the lack of sex education.
Statistics from the National Registration Department (NRD) showed that there were 930 nuptials last year among non-Muslims below the age of 18, up from 436 in 2015.
This means that the number of child marriages among non-Muslims has doubled between 2015 and last year.
The NRD statistics also showed that there were more non-Muslim girls getting married compared to boys.
Batu Kawan MP Kasthuriraani Patto, who has been campaigning for the government to set the minimum marriage age to 18, said the increase among the non-Muslim community was of “great concern”.
“One child marriage is one case too many already. There are many factors that drive parents to consent to child marriages and for children themselves,” she said in an interview.
At press time, the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry did not respond to requests for comments.
Under civil law, non-Muslims are allowed to marry from the age of 18, but girls can marry as early as 16 provided that they have the permission of the state’s Chief Minister or Mentri Besar.
Customary laws in Sabah and Sarawak set the minimum age for marriage at 18 for boys and 16 for girls.
Both may be permitted to marry below that age with the written consent of a parent or legal guardian.
However, there are still more child marriages among Muslims.
In a parliamentary written reply to Kasthuriraani in July 2018, the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry had said then that between January 2013 and December 2017, there were 5,362 Muslim child marriage applications recorded by the Syariah Judiciary Department.
Over the same period, calculations based on data from the NRD found that there were 2,755 non-Muslim child marriages.
The minimum age of marriage for Muslims is 16 for girls and 18 for boys in all states except Selangor.
However, exceptions can be made for girls or boys to marry at a younger age as long as they obtain the consent of the Syariah Court.
In September last year, Selangor officially raised the minimum age of marriage to 18 through amendments to the Islamic Family Law (State of Selangor) Enactment 2003 and the Syariah Court Civil Procedure (State of Selangor) Enactment 2003.
In February, the Sabah Cabinet also agreed to set the minimum age to marry at 18.