A Malaysian lawmaker recently said that allowing child marriage in the country would put a stop to rampant premarital sex among teenagers. Nik Mazian Nik Mohamad of Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, who is a member of parliament from Pasir Puteh district, said prohibiting child marriage on the other hand would cause an increase in the number of teenagers engaging in casual sex.
“We now have teenagers below 16 who want to have sex,” he said during a debate on the Child (Amendment) Bill 2015 at the Dewan Rakyat on April 6.
Mohamad shared his opinion while arguing about statutory rape with fellow lawmaker Teo Nie Ching from Democratic Action Party, who first brought up the case of a 13-year-old girl who was forced to marry her 40-year-old rapist in Sabah last year. Ching, who is a member of parliament from Kulai district, mocked Mohamad while asking him if he knew the definition of statutory rape.
“Sex with someone below the age of 16 is classified as rape, even with their consent. How can we allow our children to marry a rapist?” he asked.
Mohamad asked in return if the teenage girl was forcefully made to have sex with the 40-year-old.
“If it was mutual; that means the child was lusty,” he said.
Ching responded saying, instead of marrying off minors to their rapists, it was advisable to create awareness through education.
While the minimum legal age to marry in Malaysia is 18 years, Muslim girls sometimes tie the knot at the tender age of 16 after seeking permission from the chief minister. Those aged below 16 years, can do the same by seeking permission from their parents or the shariah court.
Following this debate, Women’s Aid Organization slammed Mohamad for saying that child marriage would put a stop to premarital sex among teenagers. Labeling the lawmaker’s comments as reckless, the group’s advocacy officer, Lainy Lau pointed out that child marriage often leads to negative consequences. She said that girls who were married off early typically had their education interrupted and felt alienated, which inevitably made it difficult for them to become economically independent and learn how to socialize.
“Being economically dependent on their spouse also traps them in an abusive marriage, as a viable alternative is usually out of the question. When they are socially immature, they are very vulnerable to mental, physical and sexual abuse as they lack knowledge and life experience,” Lau said.
She also condemned Mohamad for suggesting that the aforementioned teenager was lusty for allegedly engaging in consensual sex with her rapist.
“It is uncalled for. It demonstrates his dismissal of discussing an important social issue by passing presumptuous judgments,” Lau said.
In the meantime, former WAO executive director, Ivy Josiah stressed that religion and culture should not be used as an excuse to defy the international standards of human rights. She elucidated that while child marriage is allowed both under civil law as well as shariah law, Malaysia should abide by the United Nations’ definition of a child.
“According to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, they’re children as long as they are below 18,” she said.
A few days after Mohamad was criticized by WAO, a former chief judge from Terengganu shariah court said that he was completely misguided in advocating child marriage to put a stop to premarital sex among teenagers. Stressing that Mohamad was incorrect in his position, Datuk Ismail Yahya said that his comments had reduced the institution of marriage to nothing but a legitimate means to have sexual intercourse.
“His views and concerns are seemingly centred only on the issue of sexual intercourse and that's not right. The aim of marriages like these is not driven by the reasoning the one can have sex legally, but to safeguard the family institution and to help girls get guidance from their spouses,” Yahya said, referring to child marriage.
He also explained that the Koran does not promote the virtue of marrying minors or encourage the practice. Instead, he said that the notion can be traced back to the Prophet’s marriage to Aisha, who according to the scripture was aged between six and seven years at the time. Aisha’s age at the time of her marriage to the Prophet however has been contended, as clerics like Wan Ji Wan
Hussain suggest that she was between 16 and 20 years.
“But people don't seem to know what really led to the union, and some tend to simply use this incident as a reason to justify underage marriage,” Yahya lamented.
Despite Muslims in Malaysia being allowed to marry before the legal age, Yahya said that the practice could do more harm than good.
Photo Credits: al-Alarabiya