KOTA KINABALU: Child marriages in Sabah remain a serious concern with activists calling for more efforts to raise awareness among youths and parents.
A study by Pacos Trust in five Sabah districts – Beluran, Kota Marudu, Tenom, Keningau and Nabawan – earlier this year showed that there were still high incidences of marriages involving those below the age of 18.
Child marriages are a social and cultural norm in Sabah, activists explained in an online discussion Tuesday (Nov 24).
The one-day webinar brought together young workers and youths in Keningau and Banggi, as well as the public to participate through Facebook Live.
Pacos Trust executive director Anne Lasimbang said the discussion was part of efforts to create awareness to end child marriages.
“As one of the outcomes of this programme, Pacos Trust will help every child enjoy childhood without being pressured into marriage and defend their rights to have an adequate standard of living, health and education.
“We cannot allow our children to be deprived of their rights just because child marriage is a past and current practice" said Anne, who hosted the discussion with Kapayan assemblyman Jannie Lasimbang.
The programme, funded by the European Union, also includes talks for students and parents in secondary schools which will be carried out in the next two years, besides the research that has already been completed, Anne added.
The webinar focused on young workers because a 2018 statistic showed many child marriages occurred in cities.
In Kota Kinabalu, it was reported that 130 pregnant girls aged 10 to 19 years old had opted to get married compared to 64 who opted to be single mothers or gave their child up for adoption. In Keningau, 82 opted to marry, while 19 did not.
According to the Syariah Judiciary Department, Sabah recorded 955 marriages under the age of 18 from 2011 to October 2016, and 505 cases involved female Muslim children.
Based on the National Registration Department, a total of 5,215 child marriage cases were recorded in Malaysia from 2005 until October 2015 for non-Muslim marriages.
Sarawak recorded the highest with 1,609 cases while Sabah recorded 167 cases.
This low number for Sabah may not reflect the real situation, as there is a serious lack of documentation on marriage under 18 among indigenous or native communities, Jannie said.
Jannie said that the previous Warisan Plus-led state government had approved a policy to set a minimum age of marriage at 18 years old on Oct 4, 2019, which was followed by a "10-year Action Plan on Ending Marriage Below 18 Years" that was drawn up by the Law and Native Affairs Ministry in collaboration with the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef).
The legal amendment process had finished drafting provisions and guidelines under the Native Court Enactment 1992 and the Undang-undang Perkahwinan Keluarga Islam 1992/2004 (Muslim family marriages law) but they were yet to be presented to the state Cabinet as the state government changed in Sept 2020.
Among those who gave presentations during the webinar were was former Sabah Women Advisory Council president Datuk Dr Tarsiah Taman, who told young participants to look into other possibilities when pushed into marriage at a young age.
Suzanna Piny, deputy director at the National Population and Family Development Board, also spoke on the importance of education on family life and reproductive health.