THE initiative taken by the Government to table a child sexual crimes Bill in Parliament is a good step in protecting our children from these heinous crimes that have become so rampant in Malaysia. Cases of child sexual crimes are on the rise here, judging from the number of police reports lodged. At the same time, the number of cases charged in court is comparably smaller. As such, the proposal to table the Bill is very welcomed as it will further strengthen our laws protecting children from sexual predators.
The proposed Bill will address new offences against children, namely child grooming and child pornography. It will also give paramount consideration to the evidence of children and the establishment of a special court to deal with child sexual offenders.
However, the Government should also seriously consider including the matter of child marriage in the Bill. Under our law, the marriageable age for Muslim women is lower than for men. Section 8 of the Malaysian Islamic Family Law (Federal Territories) Act of 1984 (Act 303) clearly states that the minimum legal age for Muslim boys to get into marriage is 18, and 16 for a Muslim girl. Younger couples are allowed to marry with written permission from the Syariah Court if both sets of parents put in an application to formalise their children’s nuptials. For non-Muslims, the legal age for marriage is 18. However, non-Muslim females between the ages of 16 and 18 are permitted to get married with the consent of the Chief Minister, as stipulated under Part III (10) of the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 (Act 164).
Though the law on this issue is clear, it can be subjected to abuse if no proper action is taken. As such, including this matter in the proposed child sexual crimes Bill would provide wider protection for our children.
Child marriage has lasting negative consequences especially on girls. Women who were married in their teens or earlier struggle with the health effects of getting pregnant at a young age. Child marriages can also open the door to domestic violence, child sexual abuse, and even marital rape.
DR MUZAFFAR SYAH MALLOW
Faculty of Syariah and Law
Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia