PUTRAJAYA: The government has outlined seven objectives, 17 strategies and 58 programmes and actions to address issues of child marriage through a five-year strategic plan.
The strategic plan will tackle six major causes of underage marriage.
Among the six causes identified are poverty, lack or no access to reproductive health education, lack of access to education and society’s stigma that marriage is the best choice to solve problems.
Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said the plan would not merely tackle the causes of underage marriage, but also indirectly help to overcome other social issues affecting families and children.
She said, for instance, the social stigma that child marriage was the best solution to address unwanted pregnancies must be removed.
“Underage marriage will have a profound effect on the health of a teenager and there are studies that found that girls aged between 15 and 19 who are pregnant face a higher risk of death during pregnancy or birth.
“We believe that if we can address the causes, the issue of child marriages can be eradicated, ” said Dr Wan Azizah, during the launch of the 16-page document at her ministry here.
The Women, Family and Community Development Minister said the societies need to change this mindset, as underage marriages would not solve problems, but in fact, could lead to even more troubles.
“In the past, underage marriages were practised because the socio-economic situation, education opportunities and the realities of life at that time made it normal.
“But today, education opportunities are better, technology is more advanced, the socio-economic outlook is more positive and there is higher awareness that children deserve the chance to expand their potential.
“With this, child marriages should not at all be the option or solution to any problems, ” she said.
Dr Wan Azizah also said the government would continue to publicise the existence of shelters for pregnant teens to prevent baby dumping cases.
“It is important that those who are pregnant but are not married do not dump their babies.
“We want them to be aware that there is a support system for them and that child marriage is not the solution, ” she said.
Dr Wan Azizah added that among the initiatives in the plan was strengthening the existing socio-economic and outreach support programmes, increase the minimum marriage age to 18 for girls as well as providing self reproductive health services that were children-friendly.
She said a steering committee spearheaded by Women, Family and Community Development Ministry and participated by all agencies would be set up to monitor the implementation of the plan.