Most newlyweds have the wish to marry “till death do us part”, or “live happily ever after.”
Last year, a 22-year-old Sarawakian rapist married his 14-year old victim, to escape prosecution. In response, the Women, Family and Community Development Minister, Datuk Rohani Abdul Karim, announced that her ministry would stop sham marriages, to protect underage girls.
The experience to which the victim has been subjected will leave her with physical and mental scars for the rest of her life. Why add to her anguish by making her marry her rapist? Sex with a minor is statutory rape, and it does not matter if it was consensual. It is still rape.
At the end of 2015, the PAS ulama information chief, Mohd Khairuddin Aman Razali, alleged that the best method to curb child rapes was to marry off the children. To reduce the burden of marriage, he even urged the government to provide incentives for the couple.
One wonders if Khairuddin has any young daughters? Does he not realise that he is legalising paedophilia? Why would a father want to wreck his daughter’s future? Many married couples find marriage a strain, with financial commitments and the responsibility of parenthood. So why should a child, who is forced to become a wife, and mother, fare any better?
It was also reported, last year, that a divorce is granted every ten minutes in Malaysia. In that case, Khairuddin’s assertion that marriage is the answer to rising cases of statutory rape, is irresponsible and wrong.
The statistics from the Syariah Judiciary Department Malaysia (JKSM) for Muslim couples show that the trend for divorce is rising. There were 20,916 divorces in 2004. By 2012, the figure had risen to 47,740, and reached 49,311 in 2013. The rate has more than doubled between 2004 and 2013.
In cases of child marriages, an underage Muslim girl needs to seek the permission of her family, the Syariah Court, chief minister, or menteri besar, of the state.
Why are so few Malays prepared to speak out against child marriages?
What future has a child bride?
It is outrageous that we think of a young girl’s body in relation to her being able to bear children and nothing more. A girl may possess a well-developed body, but be mentally immature.
Most importantly, she is denied an education. When she is married, she will probably stop schooling, especially if she has children to look after. She lacks many skills, and her life is likely to be one of poverty, pain and lost opportunities
She should consider herself lucky, if her husband does not abandon her after a few years of marriage, to start another family, with another, younger girl. If she thinks she can get the syariah courts to help, she is in for a rude awakening. Anecdotal experience from Malay wives, who have first-hand experience of the syariah courts, is depressing.
The issue of child brides is a sensitive one, because some Malay men feel it is their “religious obligation” to marry a girl who has just reached the age of puberty, and to have four wives, if he wishes.
Sadly, many Malay women are reluctant to discuss this openly, for fear that their husbands may leave them for daring to speak out against what he perceives to be his right to a child bride.
The non-Malay is fearful of entering the debate, because he is warned, not to discuss something which does not concern him.
Child marriages are not restricted to the Muslim community. The 2000 Census shows that 6,800 girls and 4,600 boys, below 15-years of age, were married. Of the 6,800 girls, 2,450 (36%) were Malay, 1,550 (22.8%) non-Malay bumiputera, 1,600 (23.2%) Chinese, 600 (9%) Indian and 600 (9%) child brides were from ‘other races’.
Before Rohani can address the problem of child brides, who are forced to marry the rapist, Malay society needs to acknowledge that they have a problem.