13 Feb 2011

Malaysian conference considers the problems of child brides in a progressive Islamic state

Bernama  -  Malaysian National News Agency     February 7, 2011

Underage Marriages: A Holy Or Unholy Matrimony?

By Haslinda Zainal

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 7 (Bernama) -- Siti Nur Zubaidah Hussin just turned 11 when her father forced her to marry a 41 year old man from Kelantan on February 2010.

Her father Hussin Mat Salleh was a follower of a religious sect who was convinced by the leader Shamsuddin Che Derahman, a.k.a "Sudin Ajaib" that there is nothing wrong in such union.

As the girl was clueless and too young to take the role of a wife physically and mentally, she went into a state of depression.

Siti was found hundreds of kilometres in a delirious state in Masjid Al-Ikhwan, in Batu Caves days after the husband disappeared with her.

Siti Nur Zubaidah's sad fate is certainly neither the first nor going to be the last in the country. There are also many underage girls who marry on their own will while some have no choice but to get married as they are pregnant out of wedlock.

The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) in 2005 defined underage marriage as a marriage or a union between two people with one of them or both being less than 18 years old.


Up to now, the number of underage marriages only represents a miniscule figure of 0.725 per cent of the total number of marriages in Malaysia. Though the figures are small, there are negative implications relating to underage marriages.

While marriage is fundamental in procreation and is encouraged by religion and society, but how does our society see underage marriages in a context of a developed society.

Thus, the Syariah Judiciary Department and the Malaysian Syariah Officers' Association dwelled into this problem at a national seminar entitled Islamic Family Laws "Underage Marriages: Proper or Not?" here recently.

The Negeri Sembilan Fatwa (edict) Council member Dr Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakari noted that the Al-Quran, al-Sunnah and ijma' does not prohibit underage marriages.

However, he conceded that the interest of the parties involved, especially the girl had to be given due consideration.


He quoted the views of Syeikh Abdullah al-Manie, a prominent member of the Saudi Arabia's Senior Ulama Council, that "the marriage between Prophet Muhammad and Sayidatina Aisyah should not be the excuse to justify underage marriages".

"His view appeared as a reaction on the case where a 12 year old girl was married off to a 80 year old man in Buraidah, Saudi Arabia," Dr Zulkifli said in his working paper entitled 'Underage Marriages from the Perspective of Islamic Law'.

Dr Zulkifli noted that while marriage to an underage girl is allowed, within the terms and conditions of a marriage, the girl had to be old enough to consummate the marriage.

"This is because sexual union is what consummates the marriage, thus from the customary perspective underage marriages should not be allowed except in special circumstances," he said.

So what is the minimum age for a girl and a boy to tie the knot?

Section 8, of the Islamic Family Laws Act (Federal Territories) 1984 and similar enactments at the states in Malaysia set a minimum age for marriage.

The act stipulates that no marriages can be solemnised or registered if the male is less than 18 years of age or the female is less than 16 years of age unless a Syariah judge provides his written consent in special cases.


The Malaysian Institute of Islamic Understanding's (Ikim) Deputy Director General Prof Datuk Dr Zaleha Kamaruddin pointed out underage marriages also happen in other places and they are more common in certain regions.

Then if this is the case, then why the Malaysian society frowns on underage marriages?

The answer probably lies in the fact that Malaysia is an exemplary progressive Islamic state and underage marriages are seen as a step backward.

Dr Zaleha in her working paper entitled `Underage Marriages from the Legal Perspective' observed fortunately this problem is not a norm in Malaysia.

The parents instead should encourage their children to study and not marry them off when they are young.

"In line with the current global development where knowledge is a culture, we should not allow underage marriages except when it is totally unavoidable," she said.

But can we curtail underage marriages through legislation? On this question Malaysia should learn from India and Pakistan's experience where their laws to prohibit underage marriages were totally ineffective.

"Nevertheless the number of underage marriages is slowly dwindling in both nations not because of legislations but due to the efforts to encourage the fairer sex to study up to the university level," she said.


Underage marriages also pose health implications on the girl especially in reproductive, sexual, emotional and mental health.

Hospital Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia's (HUKM) Obstetric and Gynecology Consultant Associate Prof Dr Harlina Halizah Siraj noted underage marriages leads to early pregnancy and numerous complications during the antenatal ( pregnancy), intrapartum (birth) and also post-partum (post pregnancy) stages.

"The mother and infant mortality too is high among pregnant teenagers, not only due to complications during and after pregnancy but also factors like the availability of healthcare facilities," she said when presenting the working paper entitled 'Underage Marriages from the Medical Perspective'.

Dr Harlina Halizah also pointed out those who resort to underage marriages are often ignorant of contraceptives and family planning or may even face difficulties in obtaining contraceptives.

"Other than this, a poor diet could also lead to malnutrition, and underage marriages are also linked to high rates of domestic violence that disrupts the emotional and mental health," she said.

She said teenagers who marry young have to face the realities of family life where they need to make decisions and find effective solutions, manage monetary and emotional issues, and communicate effectively.

"The vagaries of life can cause deep impact to the mental, emotional, social and spiritual well-being. Thus underage marriages often don't last long," she said.

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