DPM washes federal government’s hands of child marriage legislation, says states won’t budge

Child marriage was a hot topic at today’s Dewan Rakyat Question Time session, with Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail appearing to wash the government’s hands of Pakatan Harapan’s election promise of ending child marriage, telling Parliament that the federal government cannot enforce a ban as seven of Malaysia’s 13 states refuse to cooperate.

For some reason, Pakatan has declined to tackle the issue from the top down with federal legislation, and DPM Wan Azizah told parliamentarians today that the party’s strategy of encouraging individual states to handle the matter through the country’s parallel Sharia court system was off to a slow start.

Only one state has so far successfully ratified laws that banned children under the age of 18 from getting married, she said, while the separately administered Federal Territories was working on ratification.

“Amending the enactment/legal ordinance on minimum age for marriages can only happen if the states agreed with the proposed amendments. Only Selangor has amended the enactment while the Federal Territories is in the process of amending it,” she said in response to a question from fellow Pakatan MP Syed Ibrahim Syed Noh, according to a transcript of her remarks.

“Five other states that have agreed to amend (the law) are Penang, Sabah, Johor, Melaka and Perak.”

According to the DPM, the seven states that have so far refused to enact the legal amendment were Sarawak, Pahang, Terengganu, Perlis, Negri Sembilan, Kedah and Kelantan.

Sarawak currently holds the record for the highest number of child Muslim marriages, with Kelantan a close second.

Wan Azizah, who is also the Women, Family and Community Development Minister, added that her department was in the midst of “finalizing” the National Strategic Plan to Overcome the Reason of Underage Marriage, which will be presented to state and federal agencies by year’s end.

(Let’s just hope that they edit that clunker of a title before it goes to print.)

Malaysians have been left frustrated at the government’s apparent inability to follow through with their election pledge to end the practice of marrying off young children. The issue was cast into even starker relief last year, when much of the country was left aghast and red-faced in front of the international community after news broke of an 11-year-old girl being wed to a 40-plus-year-old businessman.

Details of their union and meeting alluded to grooming that began when the girl was only 9 years old. The man attempted to exploit loopholes in existing laws by marrying the girl in Thailand, despite not having permission to marry his child bride from either the authorities or his other wives, as is legally required. Many were left even more shocked when the suspect received a mere slap on the wrist for the incident, rather than see his actions investigated under the Sexual Offences Against Children Act, which criminalizes grooming.

MP Syed Ibrahim pressed the DPM further today when it came to matters of grooming children, and again Wan Azizah seemed to suggest that her ruling government had no agency when it came to stopping criminals.

“In this issue, criminal elements cannot be proven. There is no evidence of the communication [that] can be traced and it is also protected by the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA), while their relationship has obtained the approval of the child and the child’s parents,” she reasoned.

However, Wan Azizah, a medical doctor by profession, did not explain how the personal data law — which deals exclusively with corporations’ access to individuals’ online data — would have any bearing on a potential criminal investigation.

(After all, predators aren’t allowed to prey on kids because companies can’t collect info on their browser history. Odd that the second-in-command of the country doesn’t seem to grasp that.)

“Another problem is after grooming, they marry the child and many of parents feel that it is good for the child to be married off. It is very difficult to determine the sexual crime,” she added.

Which brings us to our next point: you see, DPM there are laws against grooming and sexual crimes, and if you break them, you’re considered a criminal, even if your child bride’s parents think it’s totally OK.

For instance, if you love smoking weed, and your mum is super-cool about it, it’s still illegal. You feel?

The impasse over child marriage is yet another black mark on PH’s spotty record of actualizing their pre-election promises. The party has failed to make good on numerous campaign vows, from the seemingly benign free-toll passage pledge, to the more serious proposed student loan relief.

Public frustrations with the sitting government have been painfully apparent: A recent by-election saw a landslide victory for the Barisan Nasional opposition coalition, despite the fact that UMNO’s president is currently on trial over accusations of serious embezzlement and their former leader, and ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak, is also in the middle of legal turmoil.

 

This article, DPM washes federal government’s hands of child marriage legislation, says states won’t budge, originally appeared on Coconuts, Asia's leading alternative media company. Want more Coconuts? Sign up for our newsletters!