The public marriage celebration in Malaysia between a 14-year-old girl and a 23-year-old teacher has triggered a call for a fresh debate on child marriage.
On Saturday, schoolgirl Siti Maryam Mahood and Abdul Manan Othman celebrated their marriage at a mosque in the Kuala Lumpur, after a religious Shariah court approved the union.
“It has been hard trying to juggle two roles — as a student and a wife — but I am taking it in my stride,” Siti Maryam was quoted as saying by the New Sunday Times newspaper.
“My husband is a teacher at a primary school and he is a family friend,” she said according to the daily, which said the girls’ parents match-made the couple and that the Shariah court granted them permission to marry in July.
Ivy Josiah, executive director of leading activist group Women’s Aid Organization, said that laws which allow underage marriage in certain cases must be dumped by Malaysia, a conservative and mainly Muslim country.
“I certainly hope this will spark a fresh round of open debate. There should not be any roadblocks ... that it involves culture and religion and hence we cannot talk about it,” she said.
Josiah has previously said that “child marriage amounts to pedophilia.”
Muslims younger than 16 who want to get married must obtain the permission of the religious courts. Those of other religions aged below 17 must have the consent of civil authorities.
“We need to remedy the flaws in the law. There are exceptions in the law. These exceptions should be removed. The government can no longer turn a blind eye,” Josiah said.
“The government should set the minimum marriage age of 18 for all races — boys and girls since the Child Act recognizes a child as anyone below 18,” she said. “We need to protect the child.”
In Malaysia, Muslims make up about 60 percent of the 28 million population. For certain issues, including family law, they are subject to Shariah law which operates in parallel with the civil legal system.