By Rahmah Ghazali
PETALING JAYA: The Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (Jakim) sees nothing wrong in child marriage if the wedding is bound “by love between couples”.
Going against the tide of resentment triggered recently by the marriage of a 14-year-old Muslim school girl in a mass wedding, Jakim stressed that the practice was now widely accepted and considered “reasonable”.
Jakim director-general, Wan Mohamad Sheikh Abdul Aziz, said child marriage should not cause any problem, especially if the wedding was bound "by the love between couples”.
"The main issue is whether it violates Islamic law and the laws of Malaysia... but if there are elements of coercion, we must conduct an investigation,” he told FMT via a text message yesterday.
He, however, said that given the growing social problems among Muslims, such type of marriage should be encouraged.
"We ought to encourage marriage and not fighten the young people who want to get married," said Wan Mohammad.
Furthermore, he believed that pre-marriage courses introduced by Jakim since 1992 have helped many young couples to get through their married life, including the schoolgirl who tied the knot with a man doubled her age.
"The public may have objected to this idea at first, but now it (child marriage) is already widely accepted as a reasonable move," he said.
Civil rights groups have described such practice as “unacceptable” and have continuously called for restraint by religious courts empowered to approve underage marriage.
As there are many underaged unions that go unreported, the matter involving the schoolgirl only came to light when she and her husband participated in a mass wedding celebration at the Federal Territory mosque on Dec 4.
According to news reports, schoolgirl Siti Maryam Mahmod married 23-year-old schoolteacher Abdul Manan Othman last Saturday, after being given permission in a Syariah Court.
Raise the minimum age of marriage
Activist group, Sisters in Islam (SIS), which disagreed with underage marriage, proposed that the government raise the minimum age of marriage to 18 years for all Malaysians.
SIS spokesperson Yasmin Masidi said in a statement yesterday that the onset of puberty did not mean that the person has attained sufficient maturity for marriage.
"While the Quran does not state a specific age as the age of marriage, Surah an-Nisa' 4:6 requires that when orphans reach the 'age of marriage' or a 'marriageable age', they can be tested for 'sound judgment' or maturity of mind'.”
Yasmin said this indicated that a marriageable age was linked to soundness of judgement and maturity, where a child below 18 could not be said to have the life experience necessary to assume marital responsibilities.
"There is no sound reason why her family and her intended groom cannot wait until she reaches the age of majority before asking for her consent to marry," she said.
Yasmid added that Malaysia should emulate other Muslim-majority countries which are already taking steps to address child marriage as a problem.
"A man was jailed in Indonesia for sexually abusing a minor after he married a 12-year-old girl, and even Saudi Arabia is mulling over a ban on child marriage."Studies on child marriage point to harm suffered by children, particularly girls: the loss of childhood and adolescence, denial of freedom and personal development, difficulty in accessing education, health problems due to early pregnancies and abuse," she said.
The marriage of the 14-year-old child is only the tip of the iceberg as many more cases of child marriage go unreported.
According to Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister Heng Seai Kie last October, 16,000 girls aged below 15 in the country tied the knots.