The prevalence of child marriage in Malaysia

Najjua Zulkefli

WHILE much is being done by United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), stakeholders, youth groups, ministries and watchdogs worldwide to end child marriage, child marriages are still significantly on the rise during the pandemic, with Malaysia being no exception.

Muslims in Malaysia, who are subject to sharia law under the country’s dual legal system, only need to be 16. Meanwhile, non-Muslims must be at least 18 to get hitched.

As issues involving Muslim marriages fall under state jurisdiction, Selangor is currently the only state that has raised the legal marriage age to 18. In contrast, the remaining 13 states are still retaining the minimum marriage age of 16.

In Malaysia, an average of 1,500 children from various religions, ethnicities, and communities marry each year, according to Women, Family, and Community Development Minister Rina Mohd Harun.

She said this practice is prevalent both urban and rural areas, among Muslim and non-Muslims, Orang Asli or indigenous people, and even among migrant and refugee communities.

Data from the Unicef in 2018 showed that 1,856 children were married, of which around 90% were girls. It was reported that between 2007 and 2017, approximately 15,000 cases were recorded.

According to its findings, low household income and poverty, pregnancy out of wedlock, lack of access to education and poor school attendance, social norms that condone child marriage, and laws that provide for marriage under the age of 18 contributed to child marriage.

Given the complexity of the issue, as child marriage is deeply rooted in society and economic circumstances, efforts to end child marriages would require a multicultural and multilevel mindset change – from education to health to social welfare. – June 12, 2022.

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