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Malaysia

Child marriage rates
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 15
n/a
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 18
n/a

* References

* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)

Photo credit: Nafise Motlaq | World Bank

Child marriage rates
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 15
n/a
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 18
n/a

* References

* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)

What's the child marriage rate? How big of an issue is child marriage?

There is no publicly available government data on child marriage in Malaysia.

In 2000, the census showed that child marriage affected 6,800 girls below the age of 15 as well as 4,600 boys in Malaysia. Of those girls, 2,450 were Malay, 1,550 indigenous, 1,600 Chinese, 600 Indians, and 600 others. Subsequent censuses did not collect such information so it is hard to gauge the true extent of the practice.

In 2010, a United Nations report showed that over 82,000 married women in Malaysia were girls between the ages of 15 and 19. The true scale of child marriage in Malaysia may, however, be even higher as many couples who take part in religious or customary weddings do not register their unions.

Are there country-specific drivers of child marriage in this country?

Child marriage is driven by gender inequality and the belief that girls are somehow inferior to boys. In Malaysia, child marriage is also driven by:

  • Violence against girls: Many girls are forced into marrying men who have sexually assaulted them so they can avoid criminal charges. Sometimes perpetrators offer money to a girl’s parents in exchange for marriage permission. This is particularly common in poorer communities, where 5000 ringgit is the “going price” for child brides. In 2013, a 40 year old man was charged with the statutory rape of a 13 year old girl in the Sabah region. It was later reported that he had taken the girl as a second wife with consent of both his first wife and the girl’s parents.
    Trafficking: Malaysia remains a destination country for the trafficking of women and girls for sexual exploitation and forced marriage.
    Traditional attitudes: Statements made by religious leaders and politicians in support of child marriage risk legitimising the practice. It is reportedly very easy for young people to obtain permission to marry from the Shariah court and chief ministers.
    Gender norms: There are a number of case studies of girls being married off by family members. One father has been quoted as saying “it is better for them to get married rather than doing something istak elok” (improper).
    Pre-marital sex: In 2014 the UN expressed concern that authorities encourage child marriage to control pre-marital sex and children born out of wedlock. A law making sex outside of marriage a crime isolates unmarried people, especially youth, from sexual and reproductive health services, and drives them into marriage through fear of prosecution.

What has this country committed to?

Malaysia has committed to eliminate child, early and forced marriage by 2030 in line with target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals. The government did not provide an update on progress towards this target during its Voluntary National Review at the 2017 High Level Political Forum.

Malaysia acceded to the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1995, which sets a minimum age of marriage of 18, and acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1995, which obligates states to ensure free and full consent to marriage.

Malaysia has committed to the ASEAN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women and Violence against Children (2013), which acknowledges the importance of strengthening ASEAN efforts to protect children from all forms of violence, including early marriage.

In 2018 the CEDAW Committee recommended that Malaysia raise the minimum age of marriage to 18 for women and men for both civil and Muslim marriages, and require the full consent of women for any marriage.

During its 2013 Universal Periodic Review, Malaysia agreed to examine recommendations to take steps to address trends in child marriage and adopt proper measures to discourage the practice.

What is the government doing to address this at the national level?

Child marriage is rarely seen as a human rights violation in Malaysia. The little recognition that it gets as a problem means that it is difficult to reach out to survivors.

In 2014, the National Fatwa Council published a fatwa declaring that child marriage is not wajib (obligatory) or sunnah (encouraged) and that it is not a healthy practice.

In April 2016, Malaysia missed an opportunity to ban all marriages under the age of 18, irrespective of faith. The Lower House of Parliament amended the country’s Child Act 2000 without removing the legal exceptions allowing marriage before 18.

In 2017 Malaysian MP Shabudin Yahaya, a member of the Barisan Nasional coalition, caused controversy by saying that girls as young as nine are “physically and spiritually” ready for marriage and that there is nothing wrong with rape survivors marrying rapists as it means they no longer face a “bleak future”.

In 2018, following controversy and widespread protests in Malaysia when a 41-year-old man married an 11-year-old Thai girl in Gua Musang, Kelantan, the newly elected Malaysian government said it was in the process of drafting a bill that would ban child marriages in the country.

What is the minimum legal framework around marriage?

Malaysia has a dual legal system, which means that the minimum age of marriage can be determined by either civil law or Sharia (Islamic) law.

Non-Muslims may only marry from the age of 18, but girls can be married as early as 16 provided they or their parents have the permission of the State Chief Minister.

Girls have also been married even earlier with the permission of a Sharia court.

Source

Aljazeera, Malaysia’s child brides, [website], 2016, (accessed June 2018)

ASEAN Commission on the Rights of Women and Children, The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women and Elimination of Violence against Children in ASEAN, 2013, (accessed February 2018)

Human Rights Watch, Marrying your rapist in Malaysia, 2017, (accessed June 2018)

Human Rights Watch, Time to Ban Child Marriage in Malaysia, [website], 2016, (accessed June 2018)

Protect & Save the Children Association of Selangor & Kuala Lumpur, Child Marriage – Situation in Malaysia, 2013, (accessed June 2018)

Reuters, Malaysia passes child sex crimes law, does not ban child marriage, [website], 2017, (accessed June 2018)

The Rakyat Post, Child marriages do more harm than good, says Fatwa Council, [website], 2014, (accessed June 2018)

UN CEDAW, Concluding observations on the combined third to fifth periodic reports of Malaysia, 2018, p.8, p.16, (accessed June 2018)

UN General Assembly, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, Malaysia, 2013, p.22, (accessed June 2018)

United Nations, Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform, [website], 2017, (accessed February 2018)

* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)