Some people are heaping praises on the Sexual Offences Against Children Bill 2017 but are totally silent about the fact that our Government still allows child marriages to take place in the country. Isn’t permitting a child of 13 or 14 to marry a sexual and psychological violation of the child? Why then is child marriage not an offence against the child under the new law?
The answer lies in the fear of a “Taliban uprising” if we have laws prohibiting child marriage. Our political leaders have a rudimentary and shallow knowledge of Islam so they are fearful of PAS and the conservative ulama in UMNO who are strong supporters of child marriage. Naturally, keeping quiet is the preferred route.
I am proud of YB Teo Nie Ching, the Member of Parliament for Kulai who is—needless to say—from DAP. She has been relentless about seeking to ban child marriages in the country as part of the overall legal reform for child protection. Of course, there are many who do not want to enter the fray and support the DAP parliamentarian even though they know child marriage is wrong. They once again allow themselves to become victims of the local Taliban. Fearful of being pounced on and accused of being anti-Islam, these “leaders” prefer to remain silent.
The PAS MP from Rantau Panjang scolded YB Teo and told her she had no business talking about Islamic law. This is the usual method of trying to silence MPs so they don’t talk about anything the Taliban disagree with. What PAS and other Muslim NGOs must understand is this simple fact: laws are made in Parliament or in state legislative assemblies, which means elected members are entitled to speak about any law they like. They are not only entitled to do this—the people expect them to do so. There has never been a Parliament in Saudi Arabia, so perhaps the MP from Rantau Panjang does not understand how the system works.
Coming back to child marriages, I prefer the view of more progressive Muslims that modern societies should not allow for young girls to be married except under exceptional circumstances. Surah An-Nisa 4:6 in the Quran does not prescribe any age for marriage. It reads in part, “And test the orphans [in their abilities] until they reach marriageable age. Then if you perceive in them sound judgement, release their property to them.” The conditions for marriage are therefore two-fold: one is that it should take place after puberty and two is that the person must have reached a level of maturity and sound judgement in order to manage herself, her property and her home.
If we were led by truly capable Muslim leaders, it would not be difficult to stipulate the minimum age of marriage to be 18, with an allowance for those at 16 if they possess exceptional mental and psychological maturity to maintain a relationship. That is what a marriage is all about. But we can’t do this because we have shallow and timid Muslim politicians fearful of the Taliban who would surely oppose such a move.
Today we have the shariah court giving permission for old men to marry 12 or 13 year old girls. Look at BN MPs condoning rape , so long as the rapist marry the victim. What has become of this country? This is not what a modern Muslim country should practise. Look at countries like Tunisia and Morocco. They are Muslim countries too; yet they have laws like other modern democracies for women and children. Islam needs a new approach in this country, but we cannot hope to progress under the present government. Before we can have capable Muslim leaders to lead the nation, it looks like DAP members must start the ball rolling and continue to speak in Parliament on matters that are important to women and children, regardless of how much scorn they can pour on us.