Raising the minimum age of marriage in Malaysia
Statement by Amanda Bissex, UNICEF Representative a.i. in Malaysia
KUALA LUMPUR, 21 July 2022 – UNICEF welcomes the recent amendment by the Kedah State Assembly to raise the minimum age of marriage of girls from 16 to 18. As Kedah joins Selangor state on this important legislation for girls, UNICEF urges other states to raise their minimum age of marriage also.
The amendment, while an important first step, still allows Muslim girls below the age of 18 to be married with the Syariah court’s permission. The civil law of Malaysia also allows state chief ministers to grant girls between the ages of 16 and 18 the permission to be married.
In line with the recommendation of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF advocates for the minimum age of marriage to be 18 years with or without parental consent and with no exceptions. As outlined in the UNICEF Advocacy brief: Towards ending child marriage in Malaysia, child marriage cuts childhoods short. Those married as children often drop out of school, resigning them to a lifetime of limited economic prospects. Early pregnancy and childbirth carry serious health risks. And domestic violence and sexual exploitation is more likely in child marriages. In Malaysia, at least 1,500 children still marry every year.1
Addressing child marriage requires the support of parents, teachers, young people, policy makers, legislators, as well as religious and community leaders. The National Strategic Plan in Handling the Causes of Child Marriage 2020-2025, developed by the Ministry of Women Family and Community Development provides the framework to eliminate child marriage by addressing low household income and poverty, lack of access to sexual reproductive health information and services, lack of access to education and poor school attendance, underlying social norms, gaps in the legal framework and in data on child marriage.
UNICEF encourages the Government of Malaysia and its partners to provide the resources necessary to fully implement the National Strategic Plan. Additionally, lack of access to basic services including education increases the risk of child marriage amongst migrant and refugee children, and UNICEF urges inclusion of all children in programmes and policy action to eliminate child marriage.
Eliminating child marriage gets Malaysia one step closer to fulfill Sustainable Development Goal 5 on achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls in addition to eight other goals including Goal 1: No poverty, Goal 4: Quality education, and Goal 10: Reduce inequalities. Malaysia, as it works towards high-income country status, stands to benefit from eliminating child marriage and ensuring all the children in the country are empowered, educated, and healthy.
1Numbers as of 2018, based on 2007-2017 statistics from the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development (MWFCD)
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
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