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The marriage of a 12-year-old girl to her 19-year old boyfriend made

the international headlines in November last year. How common is
child marriage in Malaysia? Where does it happen and who is most
It is difficult to know exactly how many children are affected by child marriage in
Malaysia. The numbers suggest that it is a common practice among Muslims as well
as indigenous communities; however it is also prevalent amongst the Indian and
Chinese communities.
In 2000, the census showed that child marriage affected 6,800 girls below the age of
15 as well as 4,600 boys in Malaysia. Of those girls, 2,450 were Malay, 1,550
Indigenous, 1,600 Chinese, 600 Indians, and 600 others. Subsequent censuses did
not collect such information so it is hard to gauge the true extent of the practice.
In 2010, a United Nations report showed that over 82,000 married women in
Malaysia were girls between the ages of 15 and 19. To make matters worse, the
Deputy Minister for Women revealed that, for that same year, nearly 16,000 girls
below the age of 15 were in a marriage.
The true scale of child marriage in Malaysia may, however, be even higher as many
couples who take part in religious or customary weddings do not register their
What does Malaysian law say in regard to child marriage?
Malaysia has a dual legal system, which means that the minimum age of marriage can be
determined by either civil law or Syariah (Islamic) law. This creates a situation where it is
difficult to have a consistent definition of what age you are a child until and what constitutes
child marriage.
As a rule, non-Muslims may only marry from the age 18, but girls can be married as early as
16 provided they or their parents have the permission of the State Chief Minister.
The majority of the population in Malaysia are Muslims. According to Syariah law in the
country, the minimum age of marriage is 16 for girls and 18 for boys. Crucially, exceptions
can be made for girls or boys to marry at a much younger age as long as they obtain Islamic
courts’ consent. And data, while sparse, shows that girls are most affected by these legal
exceptions. For instance, this can be seen in the state of Kedah where underage marriage
applications increased by 35% between 2008 and 2010. Over 90% of those applications
involved girls younger than 16.

Why does child marriage happen in Malaysia?
Unwanted, early pregnancies contribute to the prevalence of child marriage in Malaysia. A
high number of Muslim teens marry just before they are of legal age to marry, which
indicates some haste to wed before a pregnancy progresses.
Religious beliefs as well as the taboo around sex outside of marriage play a major role too.
When asked why they consented to their daughter’s marriage, parents often explain that
girls are “too wild” and beyond control and that marriage is the best solution to protect them
from themselves.

The government should work with civil society to improve public awareness of the dangers of child marriage for girls’ education and health. This will lead to an understanding of the extent and consequences of the practice in Malaysia. through our online advocacy in particular. and train judges and those involved in administering child marriages to understand how the practice violates the human rights of the child. Until this reform takes place.In poorer communities. How is Voice of the Children tackling child marriage? As members of the national Child Rights Coalition. As part of Child Rights Coalition Malaysia. What makes child marriage such a sensitive issue to bring up and challenge in Malaysia? It is difficult for organisations coming from an urban setting to challenge the traditions and cultural practices of various communities. What priority actions are needed to bring an end to child marriage in Malaysia? Due to the close links between child marriage and Islam. Based in Malaysia. We are following the work of researchers. which will help us build a solid case against child marriage. we stress that marriages between a child and an adult are a violation of a child’s rights. a working relationship with Muslim organisations and policymakers who speak out against the practice are likely to have the strongest influence. We also plan to work with organisations for specific insights into the various communities involved. we advocate for better protection of children and. We hope that this above knowledge will give us enough tools to develop an advocacy plan for child marriages. The close link with Islam makes child marriage a taboo issue to raise – non Muslims are perceived as ill-informed to raise this issue and avenues for discussion are extremely limited. the government should establish a register to monitor underage marriages and document the reasons why the courts or the Chief Minister granted this permission. why it happens in Malaysia and how to address it. as they are perceived as lacking the credibility and experience needed for this context. Voice of the Children is an NGO that advocates for law and policy reform reform to ensure the rights of every child in Malaysia are protected and not at risk of violation. . many girls make the sacrifice of getting married at a young age to ensure their families’ economic survival. regardless of religion and with no exception. we urge the Malaysian government to amend the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce Act) 1976 as well as Islamic Family laws to set the minimum age of marriage at 18 for all.

If there is no reduction in child marriage. 15 million girls are married before the age of 18. That is 28 girls every minute – married off too soon.3 to end child. That is the equivalent of 10% of the world’s population. CHILD MARRIAGE FACTS More than 700 million women alive today were married before their 18th birthday. With more young people on our planet than ever before. Some child brides are as young as eight or nine.2 billion girls will be married by 2050. child marriage is prohibited. Most adolescent pregnancies (90%) take place within marriage. . Growing commitments to address the issue. Without addressing child marriage. With little access to education and economic opportunities. Child brides are often disempowered. endangering their personal development and wellbeing. the rates of child marriage are slowly declining. IT VIOLATES HUMAN RIGHTS AND IS ILLEGAL In many countries. such as the inclusion of target 5. but existing laws are often not enforced or provide exceptions for parental consent or traditional and customary laws. Pregnancy and childbirth complications are among the leading causes of death in girls aged 15 to 19 in low. child brides are at greater risk of experiencing dangerous complications in pregnancy and childbirth. there are urgent reasons to double our efforts.WHAT IS THE IMPACT? Each year. COMPELLING REASONS TO ACT NOW Globally. dependent on their husbands and deprived of their fundamental rights to health. In this way. child marriage drains countries of the innovation and potential that would enable them to thrive. IT PERPETUATES POVERTY Married girls often leave school and so can lack the skills to help lift their families out of poverty. the international community will fail to achieve its commitment in the Sustainable Development Goals to reduce global poverty. Child marriage reinforces gender inequality and violates human rights.and middle-income countries. Tolerating any injustice makes it easier for others to exist. education and safety. Neither physically nor emotionally ready to become wives and mothers. However. Nations also feel the impact: a system that undervalues the contribution of young women limits its own possibilities. early and forced marriage in the Sustainable Development Goals. they and their families are more likely to live in poverty. an additional 1. are encouraging. becoming infected with HIV/AIDS and suffering domestic violence. child marriage is a human rights violation that we must end to achieve a fairer future for all.

we help instil the global pressure that makes ground-level change happen. GLOBAL PRESSURE Girls Not Brides shows the will of a global movement to end child marriage. By connecting and amplifying the voice of civil society organisations across the world. the international community will not fulfil its vision of more sustainable world for all unless it tackles child marriage. CHILD MARRIAGE AND THE SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS (SDGS) Child marriage directly hinders the achievement of at least 6 of the Sustainable Development Goals.2 billion. Together we develop evidence-based solutions – like our Theory of Change – to outline how we can end child marriage and enable girls to achieve their potential in all aspects of their lives.Girls Not Brides members have come together to articulate what an effective response to child marriage entails. families and their communities. Simply put. PROGRESS IS POSSIBLE The complex mix of cultural and economic factors mean there is not a single.THE LONGER WE WAIT. long-term programming and a willingness to learn from our successes and failures. But. GIRLS ARE DISPROPORTIONATELY AFFECTED BY CHILD MARRIAGE While boys are sometimes subjected to early marriage. we can end child marriage in a generation. through partnership. the total number of women married as children will grow to 1. by 2050. simple solution. COLLECTIVE ACTION Informed by their experience of working with girls. 8 to 1 in the US. Boys are also affected – 33 million men today were married before the age of 15 and 156 million before the age of 18. A comparison of the proportion of young women aged 15-19 who were married in 2003 to young men aged 15-19 who were married in the same year found the ratio to be 72 to 1 in Mali. and 6 to 1 in El Salvador. with devastating consequences for girls. . girls are disproportionately affected and form the vast majority of the victims of child marriage. population growth means that. their families and their countries. THE BIGGER THE PROBLEM WILL BE Millions of girls and women already suffer the consequences of child marriage. If we do nothing.

which is considered a rite of passage to womanhood. says. Marrying your daughter at a young age can be viewed as a way to ease economic hardship by transferring this ‘burden’ to her husband’s family. widow of Nelson Mandela. In some communities. Poverty. families and sometimes girls themselves believe that marriage will be a solution to secure their future. In communities where a dowry or ‘bride price’ is paid. who she should be allowed to see. etc. . Marriage is therefore the next step towards giving a girl her status as a wife and mother. Giving a daughter in marriage allows parents to reduce family expenses by ensuring they have one less person to feed. Where poverty is acute. child marriage is rooted in gender inequality and the belief that girls and women are somehow inferior to boys and men. how a girl should behave. child marriage usually follows the practice of female genital mutilation/cutting. they often have to pay less money if the bride is young and uneducated. Child marriage is a complex issue. Traditional practices often go unquestioned because they have been part of a community’s life and identity for a very long time. economic and political alliances. how she should dress. In southern Ethiopia for instance. to marry. But as Graça Machel. lack of education. and insecurity fuel and sustain the practice. GENDER INEQUALITY In many communities where child marriage is practised. they become women in the eyes of the community. Harmful traditional practices can be linked to each other. girls are not valued as much as boys – they are seen as a burden on their family. Child marriage is also driven by patriarchal values and the desire to control female sexuality. cultural practices.WHY DOES CHILD MARRIAGE HAPPEN? At its heart. it is often welcome income for poor families. clothe and educate. But drivers will vary from one community to the next and the practice may look different across regions and countries. or settle social. Families closely guard their daughters’ sexuality and virginity in order to protect the family honour. CULTURE AND TRADITION Child marriage is a traditional practice that in many places happens simply because it has happened for generations. Girls who have relationships or become pregnant outside of marriage are shamed for bringing dishonour on their family. manage disputes. for instance. In some cases marriage of a daughter is a way to repay debts. in those where the bride’s family pays the groom a dowry. traditions are made by people – and people can unmake them. Families may also see investing in their son’s education as more worthwhile investment. POVERTY More than half of girls from the poorest families in the developing world are married as children. when girls start to menstruate. even within the same country.

When families face even greater hardship. . Child marriage can increase in humanitarian crises.INSECURITY Many parents marry their daughters young because they feel it is in her best interest. often to ensure her safety in areas where girls are at high risk of harassment and physical or sexual assault. Eight out of the ten countries with the highest child marriage rates are considered fragile states. such as in conflict or after a natural disaster. they may see child marriage as a coping mechanism in the face of poverty and violence.