Activists call for more efforts to address child marriages in Sabah

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah’s child marriages remain a serious concern with activists, calling for more awareness among youths and parents.

A study by grassroots-based Pacos Trust in five Sabah districts – Beluran, Kota Marudu, Tenom, Keningau and Nabawan – earlier this year showed that there were still high incidences of child marriages.

Marriages under 18 have long been a social norm in Sabah and even widely thought of as part of a cultural system, activists said during a discussion in a webinar yesterday.

The one-day webinar on FB Live brought together young workers and youths in Keningau and Banggi, as well as the public.

Pacos Trust executive director Anne Lasimbang said the webinar discussion was part of efforts to create awareness and take action to put an end to child marriages.

“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 assemblywoman Jannie Lasimbang.

The programme, which is funded by the European Union, will also include talks for students and parents in secondary schools to be carried out in the next two years, besides the research that has already been completed.

The webinar focused on young workers because a 2018 statistics showed that many child marriages occurred in cities.

In Kota Kinabalu, it was reported that 130 pregnant girls aged 10 to 19 years opted to get married, compared to 64 who opted to be single mothers or had given their child for adoption. In Keningau, 82 opted to marry while 19 did not.

According to the Syariah Judiciary Department, Sabah recorded 955 cases of marriages under 18 years from 2011 to October 2016, from which 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 years among indigenous or native communities, Jannie said.

Jannie said the previous Warisan Plus-led state government approved a policy to set the minimum age of marriage at 18 years on Oct 4,2019, which was followed by a “10-year Action Plan on Ending Marriage Below 18 Years” drawn up by the Law and Native Affairs Ministry in collaboration with Unicef.

The legal amendment process had finished drafting provisions and guidelines under the Native Court Enactment 1992 and Undang-Undang Perkahwinan Keluarga Islam 1992/2004 (Muslim family marriage laws) but they had yet to be presented to the state Cabinet as the state government had changed in September.

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