Keep Shariah courts’ discretion on child marriages but make it stricter, lawyers say

By Zurairi AR

KUALA LUMPUR, April 5 — Several lawyers have argued for Shariah courts and judges to keep its discretion to allow Muslim child marriages on a case-by-case basis, claiming a mandatory minimum age of marriage at 18 may open the system to abuse

In a forum by Parti Amanah Negara’s women’s wing on statutory rape today, the lawyers however insisted that there must be stricter regulations on such cases than currently, and marriage should be an answer to statutory rape only in “exceptional circumstances”.

“For any laws, it is not preferable to be absolute, because if laws are absolute, they can be open to abuse.

“In any laws, the courts have discretion to the application of law,” said lawyer Muhammad Faiz Fadzil, who is also Amanah Youth deputy chief.

Lawyer Ahmad Munawir Abdul Aziz speaking during the AWAN forum on child rape, April 5, 2017.

Ahmad Munawir Abdul Aziz, a Sharie and civil lawyer, said that mandatory restrictions are rarely successful, pointing at drug laws.

“When there is even the slightest doubt in defence, the perpetrators may go scot-free.

“It is a pity, sometimes our hope to ensure the welfare of the youths may not be realised,” said Munawir, who is affiliated with the Penang Women’s Development Corporation.

Faiz and Munawir had earlier urged for Islamic authorities to come out with a stricter guideline on cases where child marriages would be allowed by Shariah courts.

According to Faiz, these requirements should include the groom’s ability to provide for the marriage, and most importantly education opportunity for the bride.

However, their suggestion was met with scepticism from women’s activists in the panel, who pointed at their experience with alleged incompetency of several Shariah judges.

Rosmawati Zainal, CEO of Raudhatus Sakinah speaking during the AWAN forum on child rape.

“Sometimes, the Shariah judges do not know the real story. So they would just allow the marriage application without knowing the background,” said Rosmawati Zainal, the chief executive of shelter home Raudhatus Sakinah.

“We worry it will turn into a slippery slope. In the current situation, when children ask for marriage they would be allowed, even when not given the right information,” said Shareena Sheriff, a programme manager with women’s group Sisters in Islam.

Sisters in Islam (SIS) programme manager Shareena Sheriff speaking during the AWAN forum on child rape.

“It’s not that hard to get your application allowed. Some Shariah judges, they will not even interview the children, but only with the parents.”

There is limited data about child marriages in Malaysia, but it was previously reported that around 15,000 girls below the age of 19 are married in the country.

The issue entered media spotlight after Umno MP Datuk Shabudin Yahya said in Dewan Rakyat yesterday that marriage between those involved statutory rape could in fact help solve social problems.

He also defended existing provisions that allow minors to be married off as long as their parents or guardians seek permission from the Shariah Courts, after DAP MP Teo Nie Ching wanted the Child Sexual Offences Bill 2017 amended to also prohibit child marriages under 18.