Media centre

News Releases

Reporters' toolkit

Ethical guidelines

Hot topics

Children and media

Calendar 2016

Press contacts


The time is now: End child marriage

Forum highlights current situation, challenges and recommendations towards ending child marriage in Sabah

 KOTA KINABALU, 2 November 2018 – Community leaders representing the government, healthcare and civil society called for measures towards ending child marriage at a dialogue organised by the Borneo Eco Film Festival together with UNICEF Malaysia today. The forum to assess the situation of child marriage, and consider opportunities and recommendations towards ending it in Sabah followed a screening of “Girl Rising”, a movie about the potential of girls when they are educated and empowered.

“Let us help every child to enjoy childhood without being pressured into marriage. We cannot allow children to be deprived of their rights just because child marriage is a past and current practice. The Ministry of Law and Native Affairs is looking to restructure the Native Court and will specify minimum age of marriage in the Native Courts Enactment 1992,” said YB Jannie Lasimbang, Assistant Minister of Law & Native Affairs for Sabah, one of the panelists at the forum. “Ending child marriage is the joint responsibility of parents, teachers, the community and the government.”

In conjunction with the film festival, a school outreach is ongoing to raise awareness of children’s rights, including the negative impact of child marriage. The school outreach programme aims to reach 3,000 students from 14 educational institutions including secondary schools, alternative learning centres, and Montford Boys School by December 2018.

"While we work on changing the law to end child marriage, we need to win over hearts and minds for a cultural shift to reject the practice" said Marianne Clark Hattingh, UNICEF Representative to Malaysia. "We commend the political leaders in Sabah who have been bold in their commitment to ending child marriage."

The forum featured YB Jannie Lasimbang, Assistant Minister, Ministry of Law and Native  Affairs, Dr Shari Bin Nor, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist and Maternal Fetal Medicine Specialist, from Likas Women and Child Hospital, and Datuk Dr Hajah Tarsiah, Chairman of the Sabah Women’s Advisory Council (MPWS) as the panel speakers. The panel was moderated by Mary Gomez, Chairperson of Women and Children Rights sub-committee in Sabah Law Society.

In 2017, there were 968 marriages involving non-Muslim children and adults and 147 marriages between children that were registered in Malaysia. According to the Department of Shariah Judiciary Malaysia (JKSM), there were 877 applications for Muslim child marriages last year. It is noteworthy that according to a recent UNICEF study, Sabah recorded the third highest rates of Muslim child marriages in Malaysia after Sarawak and Kelantan between 2011 and 2016.

Marriage before the age of 18 is a fundamental violation of children’s rights and impacts every aspect of a child’s life. In Malaysia and elsewhere in the world, child marriage denies girls and boys their childhood, disrupts education, limits opportunities, increases the risk of violence, and jeopardizes health. Therefore, the law must be amended to set the minimum age for marriage to 18 years for all legal frameworks, including civil, Muslim and native customary law marriages, without exceptions.

In a survey conducted with over 1,500 young people in May 2018 on child marriage through UNICEF’s U-Report system where the majority of respondents were young people, over 70 percent indicated that it is completely unacceptable for persons under the age of 18 to be married. It is also shocking to see that 42% of those polled indicated that they personally knew of someone under the age of 18 who is married.


Note to Editors

Child Marriage in Sabah

Between 2011 and 2016, 1201 children of which 696 were males (below 18) and 505 were females (below 16) were granted permission to marry by the Syariah court in Sabah. (Source: Department of Syariah Judiciary, Malaysia)

Amongst non-Muslims in Sabah, 167 girls aged between 16 to 18 were married from 2005 and 2015. (Source: The National Population and Family Development Board, citing the National Registration Department)

Child Marriage in Malaysia

Child marriage in Malaysia affects both girls and boys, in both urban and rural areas. The practice transcends ethnic and religious groups and is practiced by Chinese, Indians, Malays, as well as indigenous and refugee communities, such as the Rohingyas, in Malaysia.

Official statistics on the prevalence of child marriage in Malaysia are not systematically collected, analyzed or well reported. However, based on the 2000 Malaysian Census data, there were 6,800 girls and 4,600 boys under the age of 15 who were married. The more recent 2010 census did not include comparable data. According to the Syariah Judiciary Department of Malaysia, and the National Registration Department, there were 6,246 Muslim child marriage applications and 2,775 cases of non-Muslim child marriages from 2010 to 2015.

In Malaysia, child marriages continue to be permitted under both the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act and the Islamic Family Law, despite the withdrawal of the State party’s reservation to article 16(2) of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

In signing and ratifying the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Malaysian Government is committed to take “all effective and appropriate measures with a view to abolish traditional practices prejudicial to the health of the children”, including child marriage.



UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone. For more information about UNICEF and its work for children visit Follow UNICEF on Twitter and Facebook


For more information, please contact:

Rachel Choong, UNICEF Malaysia, +6012 416 2872, 



 Email this article

Donate Now

unite for children