Call for Sabah gov't to raise minimum marriageable age to 18 without reservations
Oct 11, 2018
While we are relieved that Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal has agreed to retain the current legal marriage instead of lowering the age limit, it is a far cry from preserving the rights of children in Sabah.
If anything can be learned from the past, it is that child marriage has always been used as an escape route. It is the most often used excuse to escape from poverty, by releasing the financial responsibility of raising daughters by giving her away through marriage.
Marrying off young girls is popularly seen as a means to ending premarital sex, and preventing unwanted babies. However, marriage to underage girls is has also been used in an attempt to escape from prosecution for rape offences, such as the case of Riduan Masmud in 2013.
Sabah already has one of the highest incidences of child marriages in the country, according to Assistant Law and Natives Affairs Minister Jannie Lasimbang as reported by Borneo Post in July this year. It is obvious that there is a large loophole in current laws that facilitates such marriages.
It is quite shocking that as reported on online news portal Free Malaysia Today on 25th August this year, the State Law and Native Affairs Minister Aidi Moktar had said that underage marriage was not an issue in Sabah, and that 15 year olds being married off may be acceptable.
The Malaysian Penal Code outlaws sexual intercourse with a child below 16 years of age, with or without consent. Yet, marital rape is not a crime. Therefore a man who lusts after children can marry a young, underage girl of his choice and thus be absolved of any wrongdoing because they are husband and wife. This is paramount to legalizing paedophilia.
Marriage should be seen as a sacred bond between man and women that is not to be taken lightly, regardless of religion. The government’s reluctance to increase the age limit to 18 without reservations is an act of mockery to the sanctity of marriage.
We strongly urge the government to look beyond puberty as a measuring stick to guide them in determining whether or not a child can get married. Marriage is more than just about the ability to procreate; it requires physical and mental maturity alongside financial and spiritual stability, none of which a child below 18 years of age generally is ready with. By allowing children to be married off, we are in danger of permitting pedophiles and rapists to continue with their abhorrent behaviour without consequences.
Marrying off children to solve current problems of poverty, baby-dumping and premarital sex is a very hasty and shortsighted action to take. Child marriages introduces more problems than it solves.
Early marriages and consequently, pregnancy, exposes girls to risk of death and disability, yet it does not resolve the cycle of poverty that many women are trapped in. With limited opportunities to continue their education, they are stuck with low paying jobs that is not enough to live on, even more so if they are abandoned or divorced with children.
In 2014, it was highlighted that the number of single mothers and children growing up without the stability of family life is on the rise in Sabah by Karambunai Single Mother’s Association president Zainaba Shukor.
Blaming abandoned babies on premarital sex neglects to take into account that Sabah has the highest number of incidences of incest in 2017 as announced by previous Women, Family and Community Development Minister, Datuk Seri Rohani Abdul Karim.
To commemorate this year’s International Day of the Girl Child on 11th October, we, civil society organizations and individuals of Sabah from all races, religions and backgrounds, are calling for the State government of Sabah to restore the sanctity of marriage by raising the minimum marriageable age for both girls and boys to 18 without reservations though amendment of relevant syariah and native laws.
Failure to do so is a reflection of Sabah’s disrespect towards the wellbeing of its women and girls.
In addition, we would also like to make the following recommendations as follows:-
1. Implement Comprehensive sexuality education (CSE), which goes beyond just promoting abstinence, at all secondary schools in Sabah
2. To ensure that the Sexual Offences Against Children (SOAC) Act 2017 is enforced in ALL cases of child sexual abuse in all forms.
3. Provide better access to educational facilities and opportunities throughout Sabah
4. Implementation of heavy penalties on fathers that skip on child maintenance payments
5. Improved access to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) information or services
Signed by the following civil society organisations, advocates and activists:
1. Society for Equality, Respect And Trust for All (SERATA)
4. Good Shepherd Services (GSS)
6. Sabah Family Planning Association
7. Etania Schools Sabah
8. Phi Software Sdn Bhd
9. Persatuan Tadika Sabah
10. Palm Square Dental Center
11. Pertubuhan Paradigma Wanita Sabah (AWAS)
12. Liku-Liku Center for Creative Therapy
13. Association of Private Practitioners Sabah (APPS)
14. Future Alam Borneo
List of Individuals
1. Jessie Ting - Social Activist
2. Beverly Joeman, civil rights activist
3. Kathryn Rivai - Child Rights Advocate
4. Phyllicia Sandra Robert - concerned citizen
5. Dr John Teo - Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist
6. Yap Sze Wei - concerned citizen
7. Mary Gan - Teacher and Nurse
8. Ho Kah Yih - Little Kingdom Baby And Child Care Centre's Owner
9. Jenna Johnny Kulai
10. Rebecca Taimin - Lawyer
11. Datuk Leong Pau Chu
12. Jessica Chua - Lawyer
13. Brenndon Keith Soh - Lawyer
14. Christopher Shaw
15. Amy Dangin - KK12FM announcer and journalist
16. Janeta Anthony - Govt employee/NGO Volunteer
17. Shaznieffah - Owner Fitpro Empire fitness coach
18. Dr Felice Huang - Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist
19. Fifiyani Joudi - Lawye