IT is extremely appalling to read and to swallow the bitter pill that Malaysians are marrying too young.
It is shocking to read this as stated by the United Nations resident coordinator in Malaysia Michelle Gyles-McDonnough who said: “Far too many young people in Malaysia are getting married too early, putting their health and wellbeing at risk.”
These early marriages has denied the ability of young people to stay in school, pursue higher education and be equipped to be part of a productive labour force to achieve our government’s vision to be high-income nation.
While I agree with the report which states that “Early marriage denies young people the basic right to the full realisation of their potential” but we must analyse quickly and see where we went wrong in this issue. I remember most of the couples in the 40’s and 50’s got married very young due to socio-economic conditions and also due to post World War Two effects.
It is also quite interesting to note that despite being “a generation that is more connected, better educated and healthier than any generation before” and yet they choose to marry young. This deprives the immense transformative powers that youths today possess.
While early marriages among the young was among several challenges that the country’s population was facing, the other challenges included teenage pregnancies, youth unemployment and other social problems arising from the lack of youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health information and services.
The 2010 population census showed that 1.4% or 80,000 married women were between the ages of 15 and 19 while the corresponding number of young married men was 70,000.
It is also sad to note that if we have children as young as 10 registering for premarital counselling, then we have a serious problem here.
In 2013, more than 170,000 girls under the age of 19 declared their pregnancies at the Health Ministry’s maternal and child health clinics nationwide.
Although we enjoy a high national literacy rate, 44,000 children of school-going age have never attended school, as of 2009. This is a dangerous phenomenon which has negative implications on their future, creating situations that will cost much more to solve than if the problem is averted at its inception.
The Government, NGOs and our education system should create opportunities for our young to find their place as leaders, innovators, change-agents and entrepreneurs of the future, rather than opting for marriage at a tender age.
The youth are a critical stakeholder of our nation. We must look into this matter seriously and not only during elections. We must address the reasons as to why Malaysians are marrying young and come up with strong recommendations and programmes to address these issues.
Investments in the young people, particularly adolescent girls create the potential to unleash the power for greater human development and advancement.
RAVINDRAN RAMAN KUTTY
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