SIS: Malaysia has a long way to go to bridge gender gap

PETALING JAYA: Sisters in Islam (SIS) has criticised the government for failing to raise the minimum marriage age for Muslim girls from 16 to 18 years old.

“Is the government gambling the future of our children and young Malaysians by not taking care of their welfare and allowing child marriages to continue?

“The government should work hard to ensure the health, education, safety and welfare of all children and foster a Malaysian mentality that child marriages are irresponsible and will only ruin the future of children,” SIS said in a statement on Thursday (Dec 16).

On Thursday, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Religious Affairs) Idris Ahmad told the Dewan Rakyat that the number of underage marriages among Muslims dropped after the introduction of a strict standard operating procedure (SOP) under the Syariah Courts.

He added that the government, via the Islamic Development Department of Malaysia (Jakim) on Sept 22 this year took the position that there was no need to amend the minimum legal marrying age from 16 to 18 years old.

However, he said JKSM had taken various steps to ensure that those who applied for underage marriage would have to undergo a strict review process to ensure the interest of all parties was protected.

SIS took the minister to task and alleged that his statement showed that he had not read and was not sensitive towards the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women 1995 (Cedaw) and Convention on the Rights of the Child 1994 (CRC), which guarantee and protect the rights of women and children in Malaysia.

Meanwhile, SIS said Malaysia was currently the worst performer among Asean countries in the Global Gender Gap Report 2021.

“Malaysia is ranked 112 out of 156 countries. At the same time, Malaysia is ranked last in Asean.

“Myanmar (rank 109), Cambodia (rank 103), Indonesia (rank 99), Vietnam (rank 87) are at a better position compared to Malaysia.

“If Malaysia does not seriously look into this issue, for example by failing to better address the problem of child marriages, Malaysia will be left far behind in trying to achieve gender equality and to close the gender gap in the global index.

“Many Asean countries have raised their minimum marriage age for both males and females.

“Among them, Cambodia has banned child marriage and set the minimum marriage age of 18 for both genders.

“Indonesia has also raised the minimum marriage age from 16 to 19 years old for girls,” it said.

SIS added that education, health and job opportunities should be prioritised for children including girls in order to realise their full potential and ensure that they can live better lives.

SIS also reminded the government of its responsibilities towards the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) outlined by the United Nations General Assembly.

This includes ending discrimination against women and girls, including harmful practices such as child marriages.