KOTA KINABALU,.In Sabah where child marriages are rampant among many rural communities due to socio-economic challenges, lawmakers agree the practice should not happen.
However, citing native customs and practices as well as general poverty, they said the matter required more action than simply legislation prohibiting minors from being married.
“In this day and age, it should be a thing of the past. In theory, yes, all states should review their laws to prohibit such things from happening again.
“But realistically, it also needs further studies, there is a lot of legal aspect to consider. But I will look into it,” said Deputy Chief Minister Christina Liew, who added that she was a non-Muslim and not in a position to comment on amending the Shariah law.
Sabah Law and Native Affairs Minister Datuk Aidi Mokhtar said that he will study the matter before commenting.
However, his assistant Uda Sulai said that he personally felt that child marriage should be outlawed due to the associated social problems.
“But let’s not rush into it. We can study it at the ministry level first and then bring it to Cabinet,” he said.
Another law and native affairs minister, Jannie Lasimbang, said Sabah has among the highest rate of underage marriages in the country, which spanned across all its native communities, and not just within Muslim communities.
“I’m definitely a proponent of pushing to make it illegal for anyone under 18 years of age from getting married,” said the human rights activist.
“They are still children until that age. It is still too early for us to say we can amend the law to prohibit it but we will discuss this at the ministry level,” she said.
Assistant Education and Innovation Minister Jenifer Lasimbang, who has had experience working with children in poor communities due to her background in Unicef, said that changing the law alone will not stop underage marriages from happening.
“There has to be a holistic approach to this, educating the community and changing their mindset and values. Although there are cases where children as young as nine are betrothed by their parents out of customary practices, most of the cases is due to economic hardships.
“Parents who cannot look after their children pull them out of school and marry them off. It is still common,” she said.
She said she welcomed the move to up the legal age of consent to 18 years but she said the issue needed a holistic solution that will empower communities to encourage their children, particularly girls from leaving school and getting pregnant early.
“It needs to be ingrained in every part of society. The law is already there, no matter how good the law is, it can still happen. Let the ministry give the directive to conduct research and then we move from there,” she said.