PRESS RELEASE: Raise the minimum age to 18 to protect the best interest of girls
KOTA KINABALU, Sabah - 29 August 2018 - Good Shepherd Services (GSS) supports the calls to raise the minimum age to 18 as the move would protect the best interest of girls, especially those from hard-to-reach rural communities.
GSS executive director Chin Poh Choo said more efforts need to be done to reconcile the statutory rape law (which is violated when an individual has sex with a person under 16) and loopholes in the various laws that allow for underage girls to get married.
"The priority of the law should be to protect the best interest of the child. How can marrying off a girl be in her best interest when it is child abuse and detrimental to her health? The law should protect the interest of all parties, even more so children, as Malaysia is a signatory to the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child.
"We realise that there are factors, such as hardcore poverty and lack of access to education, that compel parents to marry off their daughters to lighten the family's financial burdens.
"But we also recognise that there are underlying social norms that perpetuate gender inequality, whereby boys are given more access to opportunities than girls," she said.
Chin said rather than marrying off underage girls, the priority should be on empowering them to be self-sufficient and giving them equal access to their right to an education.
She added that the issue of child marriage cannot be addressed in isolation, as it is connected with many other socioeconomic and emotional issues.
GSS has been operating a shelter for women and children experiencing gender-based violence in Kota Kinabalu since 1990.
“From our experience, there seems to be a lack of awareness and understanding among teenagers on the implications of child marriage, which may include early pregnancy. Hence, it is necessary to raise the level of awareness through the school system,” she said.
Chin urges the Sabah Government to engage with non-governmental organisations in collectively addressing these issues so that more holistic and sustainable approaches can be taken to protect the interest of children.
"While raising the marriage age to 18 is the least that could be done to safeguard their interest, it will be more effective if a multi-sectoral approach is adopted to provide more sustainable solutions,” she said.