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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.

Available data is irregular and inconsistent:

In 2016, the Minister of the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry (KPWKM) revealed that a total of 9061 child marriages were recorded from 2010 to 2015, which includes both Muslim and non-Muslim marriages.

The 2010 Population and Housing Census showed that a total of 80,195 girls and 72,640 boys between the ages of 15 and 19 were married. The 2000 Census revealed that child marriage is more prevalent among Malay and Bumiputera girls.

The true scale of child marriage in Malaysia is unknown. According to NGOs, the authorities are purposely withholding information from the public. In addition, many couples who take part in religious or customary weddings do not register their unions which makes it harder to report the extent of child marriage in Malaysia.

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:

  • Poverty: Many families decide to marry off their daughters as a means of economic survival, particularly when they are unable to continue their child’s education.
  • Traditional attitudes: There are conservative outlooks on the topics of sex and sexuality, both among Muslims and non-Muslims in Malaysia. Child marriage is sometimes viewed as a preventive and punitive measure against “sexual impropriety”, pre-marital sex and children born out of wedlock, particularly for girls as their virginity is highly valued as a marker of their dignity. Under suspicion, many parents marry off their children. Moreover, fear of prosecution, lack of information on sexual and reproductive health and social pressure drive young people to marry.
  • Violence against girls: Many girls are forced into marrying men who have sexually assaulted them so perpetrators can avoid criminal charges – many times taking the girl as a second wife. 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. The marriage is also seen to protect the family honour.

Trafficking: There are reports of Malaysia being a destination country for the trafficking of women and girls, namely Bangladeshi and Burmese Rohingya girls, for sexual exploitation and forced marriage.

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.

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 and 2018 Universal Periodic Review, Malaysia agreed to examine recommendations to set the legal age for marriage at 18 years with no exceptions, take steps to address trends in early, forced and child marriage and adopt proper measures to prevent and discourage the practice.

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.

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

Since reports of men marrying underage girls sparkled widespread protests, child marriage has become a controversial subject in Malaysia. Many stakeholders, including government authorities, do not see child marriage as a human rights violation. Statements made by religious leaders and politicians in support of child marriage contribute to legitimise the practice.

In January 2020, a five-year National Strategic Plan to Address the Causes of Underage Marriage was launched. The National Strategic Plan aims to address the main causes of child marriage, through:

  • Policy and legal changes to amend the relevant laws;
  • The implementation of awareness programmes and activities, including strengthening existing socio-economic programmes.
  • Providing friendly reproductive health services for children and teenagers.
  • Offering Technical Vocational Education and Training.

In 2018, the new Malaysian government said they were in the process of drafting a bill that would ban child marriages in the country. The Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad also issued a directive in 2018 to all state authorities that the legal minimum marriage age was set at 18 for Muslims and non-Muslims. As of January 2020, Selangor has raised the minimum age of marriage and other four states have stated that they will do so as well (Penang, Sabah, Johor, Melaka and Perak). However, federal government cannot enforce a ban on child marriages nationwide as seven states are not agreeable to the proposal.

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

Previously, in 2013, the government of Malaysia established a Child Marriage Task Force under the Coordinating Council for the Protection of Children. The task force consists of government agencies, academics and children’s rights activists. Since then, the task force has proposed several actions. However, the only progress reported is the development by the Department of Sharia Judiciary of a standard procedure for judges to assess child marriage applications. In 2018, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia rejected this procedure as they considered that it will only perpetuate and not address the practice of child marriage.

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, but failed to label it as haram (prohibited).

What is the minimum legal framework around marriage?

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

  • For Muslims, the minimum age of marriage is 16 years for girls and 18 for boys. Bellow that minimum age, a Sharia Court must grant permission, as provided for under the Islamic Family Law (Federal Territories) Act 1984.
  • For non-Muslims (bound by civil law) the minimum age of marriage is 18. Boys and girls between the ages of 18 and 20 require parental consent to be married. In addition, girls aged 16 can be married in various states provided that they or their parents have the permission of the State Chief Minister, as per the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976.

It is reportedly very easy for young people to obtain permission to be married from the Sharia Court and the Chief Minister.

Source

Aljazeera, Malaysia’s child brides, [website], 2016, https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2016/08/malaysia-child-brides-160810123204474.html (accessed January 2020).

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, http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Women/WG/ASEANdeclarationVaW_violenceagainstchildren.pdf (accessed January 2020).

CAN, Malaysia launches 5-year plan to address causes behind underage marriage, [website], 2020, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asia/malaysia-child-marriage-causes-5-year-plan-wan-azizah-12268478 (accessed January 2020).

ECPAT International, Country Overview: Malaysia, 2019, https://www.ecpat.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/ECPAT-Country-Overview-Research-Report-Malaysia-2019.pdf (accessed January 2020).

ECPAT International, Sexual Exploitation of Children in Malaysia, Briefing Paper, 2019, https://www.ecpat.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Malaysia-Briefing-paper-Sexual-Exploitation-of-Children-September-2019.pdf (accessed January 2020).

Girls Not Brides, Child marriage case draws attention in Malaysia, [website], https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/child-marriage-case-draws-attention-in-malaysia/ (accessed January 2020).

Girls Not Brides, Child marriage in Malaysia, a child rights issue, [website], https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/tackling-child-marriage-in-malaysia-a-child-rights-activists-perspective/ (accessed January 2020).

Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM), Press Statement No. 27, 2018, https://www.suhakam.org.my/press-statement-no-27-of-2018/ (accessed January 2020).

Human Rights Watch, Marrying your rapist in Malaysia,2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/01/26/marrying-your-rapist-malaysia (accessed January 2020).

Human Rights Watch, Time to Ban Child Marriage in Malaysia, [website], 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/04/29/time-ban-child-marriage-malaysia (accessed January 2020).

Nairobi Summit, Accelerating Malaysia’s Progress Towards Implementation of ICPD Programme of Action, [website], 2020, http://www.nairobisummiticpd.org/commitment/accelerating-malaysias-progress-towards-implementation-icpd-programme-action (accessed January 2020).

Noor Aziah Mohd Awal, D., and Al Adib Samuri, M., Child marriage in Malaysia, 2018, UNICEF Malaysia, 2018, https://www.unicef.org/malaysia/media/711/file/Child%20marriage%20in%20Malaysia.pdf (accessed January 2020).

Reuters, Malaysia passes child sex crimes law, does not ban child marriage,[website], 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-malaysia-sexcrimes-law-idUSKBN1770ZH (accessed January 2020).

Reuters, Sold into marriage – how Rohingya girls become child brides in Malaysia, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-myanmar-rohingya-childbrides-insight/sold-into-marriage-how-rohingya-girls-become-child-brides-in-malaysia-idUSKBN15U009 (accessed January 2020).

Sisters in Islam (SIS) and Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW), Child Marriage: Its Relationship with Religion, Culture and Patriarchy, 2018, https://arrow.org.my/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/National-Report-Child-Marriage-Single-Page.pdf (accessed January 2020).

The Malaysian Reserve, National strategic plan to address underage marriage, [website], 2020, https://themalaysianreserve.com/2020/01/14/national-strategic-plan-to-address-underage-marriage/ (accessed January 2020).

UN CEDAW, Concluding observations on the combined third to fifth periodic reports of Malaysia,CEDAW/C/MYS/CO/3-5,2018, p.8, 15-16, http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CEDAW/C/MYS/CO/3-5&Lang=En (accessed January 2020).

UN General Assembly, National report submitted in accordance with paragraph 5 of the annex to Human Rights Council resolution 16/21. Malaysia, 2019, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/MYindex.aspx (accessed January 2020).

UN General Assembly, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, Malaysia, 2013, p. 22, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/MYindex.aspx (accessed January 2020).

UN General Assembly, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, Malaysia, 2019, p. 23 https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/MYindex.aspx (accessed January 2020).

United Nations, Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform, [website], 2017, https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg5 (accessed January 2020).

* 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)