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Malaysia’s hypocrisy over child abuse

Cherry-picking from Syariah law for excuses that suit them
Mariam Mokhtar, Malaysia Chronicle

EDITOR'S PICK Malaysians have long acknowledged that they are subject to selective justice; poor vs. rich, muslims vs non-muslims, women vs men and now it seems children vs adults.

The marriage of a 14-year old girl on 7 December sparked public outrage. To get around this, Muslim ministers cherry-pick from syariah law. It is this false adherence to Islamic principles and the “holier than thou” attitude that exposes their blatant hypocrisy and double standards.

Nazri Abdul Aziz, minister in the Prime minister’s department who is in charge of legal affairs, finally revealed that the government had no intention of reviewing laws allowing for underage marriages because the practice is permitted under Islam.

He said, “If the religion allows it, then we can't legislate against it. Islam allows it as long as the girl is considered to have reached her pubescent stage, once she has her menstruation".

The Islamic Development Department of Islamic Development (JAKIM) director-general, Wan Mohammad Sheikh Abdul Aziz condoned the practice of underage marriages as “a reasonable move”.

Minister for Islamic Affairs, Jamil Khir Baharom, was guest-of-honour at the mass wedding ceremony involving the 14-year-old. He sanctioned the underage marriage as being legal under syariah law. Couples who took part were alleged to have received RM1000 each.

Curiously, Jamil appears to have done a U-turn. Last March, when there was a furore over the marriage of two children (a 10 and 11-year-old) to men in their forties, Jamil reportedly said, “it was more to satisfy lust”.

Meanwhile, the Minister of Women, Family and Community Development Sharizat Abdul Jalil firmly said, “the government is not for child marriages.”

Would the Prime minister Najib Abdul Razak like to clarify this confusion arising from the conflicting views of his ministers?

Child marriages are common in sub-Saharan Africa, the middle-east and tribal Afghanistan and Pakistan. In Yemen, over a quarter of girls are married before the age of 15.

When a 13-year old Yemeni child bride, Elham Assis, reportedly bled to death after being tied down and forced to have sex with her 23-year-old husband, her death sparked outrage. Yemenis are now pushing for a child marriage ban.

In Malaysia, our politicians dare not face-up to the ulama. They also fear alienating the rural muslim vote.

Syariah laws pertaining to divorce, marriage, conversion and child custody are usually passed without proper debate and discussion, without consulting women and taking their views into consideration.

Child brides often have no legal right to receive inheritance, alimony or child support if the husband dies prematurely or abandons his underage bride.

Girls who marry young are at higher risk of domestic violence and sexual abuse. Many contract sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS, as sex is likely to be unprotected within marriage.

The exploited girl suffers tremendous emotional and physical trauma. She is denied an education and her right to personal freedom and growth are curtailed. She is excluded from interacting with her friends, or participating in school/community activities.

When pregnant, her health is at further risk from premature pregnancy or pregnancy related mortality. Illness, injury, or death because of pregnancy is much higher than for women over 18.

Children need education, not marriage for a good start in life. Around the world, women enjoy advancements in education, living standards and economic and financial freedom.

Hypocrisy features in Malaysian lives. We ban Beyonce, but permit child marriages. We whip girls for drinking beer, but have shares in breweries. Women accused of illicit sex are whipped, whilst the men get off because they have a right to satisfy their sexual needs. Sex with a minor is statutory rape for non-Muslims, but not for Muslims.

When it suits, the life of the prophet is called into comparison, for justification. In modern times, marrying children in no longer acceptable and no excuse should be used to justify this. The rights of children are ignored and the muslim majority remains silent when it comes to the sexual exploitation of children.

The acid test: Would any of our ministers allow their own 14-year-old daughters to be married off?

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