The public outcry against the recent case in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah of the 40-year old alleged rapist marrying his 13-year old rape victim highlights again the prevalence of child marriage in Malaysia.
Contrary to popular belief, the incidence of child marriage is not isolated in Malaysia. The 2000 Population and Housing Census revealed that 6,800 girls under the age of 15 were married, with Selangor recording the highest number, followed by Sabah. Malays recorded the highest incidence of child marriage at 2,450, followed by other bumiputeras 1,550, Chinese 1,600, Indians 600 and others 600. In terms of incidence per population, Sabah leads, followed by Malacca, Penang and Selangor.
The 2000 census data also showed there were 235 children between the ages of 10 and 14 who were already widowed and 77 divorced or permanently separated.
Early marriage has lifelong negative consequences, in particular for child brides. Child brides are less likely to complete their education, which in turn affects their future and keeps them mired in poverty. Their vulnerability puts them at a higher risk of being physically, sexually and mentally abused, and contracting deadly diseases, such as HIV. Maternal health risks are particularly troubling. Young brides are more likely to become young mothers, and the risk of death in pregnancy and delivery for girls under the age of 15 is five times higher than for women in their 20s. Together, the costs of this practice are too high to be ignored.
You can help change this. Take a stand against child marriage and let the Malaysian Government know that we do not accept a practice that threatens the well-being of our children and endangers our daughters, in terms of economic, social and health risks. We should not rob our children of their childhood. Their right to life, health, education, and security must be upheld.