Raise floor marriage age strictly to 18, urges former Sharie judge

Danial Dzulkifly
Former Sharie Chief Judge of Terengganu, Datuk Ismail Yahya, speaks during a forum on child marriage in Shah Alam August 27, 2018. — Picture by Mukhriz Hazim

SHAH ALAM, Aug 27 — Lawmakers need to amend laws strictly not to allow marriage under the age of 18 years old, former Sharie Chief Judge of Terengganu Datuk Ismail Yahya stressed today.

Speaking during a forum on child brides hosted by the Selangor Bar Committee today, Ismail explained that the current legal marrying age for Muslim girls — which is 16 years old — is irrelevant and should be amended to reflect the times.

“Among the key reasons why the marriage age should be raised for women is education and earning a profitable income. Women nowadays prefer to work and are active competitively in education. Being married at the age of 16 will likely affect these two factors for women.

“Furthermore, at the age of 18, both parties can legally work and find a means to support one another. Income sources are a very important factor in household life,” he said at the forum held at the Selangor Bar here.

Subsequently, citing a hadith in the Al-Manaqib Fi Bab Fadl A’ishah book, Ismail explained that the Prophet Muhammad’s marriage to his youngest wife Aishah, widely believed to have taken place when she was just six or seven years old, was his “special right”.

“The marriage of the Prophet Muhammad was his special right and cannot be used as the right argument that Shariah law allows child marriage,” he said, but did not elaborate further.

Ismail also said that child marriage can be damaging on a large scale if not curtailed.

“It can harm the child herself, even the family institution and nation-building. Children are seen as state assets that need to be given space to enhance themselves through education and make their own choices about life when they are older.

“Children, who are forced to get married at an early age, no longer have the opportunity to make a choice about their life and submit to the situation surrounding them without any intellectual ability to challenge and alter the situation,” he said.

Farhan Haziq Mohamed speaks during a forum on child marriage in Shah Alam August 27, 2018. — Picture by Mukhriz Hazim

Speaking at the forum was also Sharie lawyer Farhan Haziq Mohamed, who agreed with Ismail’s proposal that the minimum age of marriage be raised.

“However, I cannot agree to a complete ban of not allowing people below the age of 18 to marry. There are cultural aspects to evaluate, for example, indigenous communities who might have a different definition of the right age to marry,” he said.

International director at Geutanyoe Malaysia, Lilianne Fan, speaks during a forum on child marriage in Shah Alam August 27, 2018. — Picture by Mukhriz Hazim

Another speaker, Lilianne Fan, the co-founder of Geutanyoe Foundation, which deals in refugee and human rights issues, said child marriage does not mainly occur in Muslims communities.

“In South-east Asia, Laos and Cambodia are among the countries with the highest recorded case of child marriages. People tend to think child marriage is confined to the Muslim community only, but it occurs in these communities as well,” she said, citing the main driver of child marriage as poverty.

Earlier today, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail told the Dewan Negara that the decision to impose a total ban on child marriage has not been finalised yet.

Dr Wan Azizah, who is also women, family and community development minister, said the matter was still under study, including in terms of the legal and social implications if the minimum age of marriage was increased to 18 years.

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