The issue of child marriage continues to dominate the news in Malaysia, especially after a report more than two months ago about a Kelantan man, aged 41, having wed an 11-year-old girl.
There was much outrage with swift reaction from civil society, activists, NGOs and politicians condemning the man and also the fact that such a thing could take place involving Malaysians.
However, despite all the talk, little has been done since then on how this practice can be stopped. It was not the first time this has happened too, with reports of a girl as young as 14 being married off to an adult man in a mass marriage a few years ago.
The main excuse for the failure to immediately put an end to this practice is that existing Syariah law provisions allow for child marriages to take place.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Women’s Affairs and Welfare Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail has taken the most flak for her failure to find a permanent solution. She has also not given any reassurance that something could be done, and instead has issued what could be seen as lackadaisical or non-committal statements.
While the topic remains on the top of everyone’s agenda, another controversy has arisen with the public caning of two women for attempting to engage in “same-sex relations”. The incident took place last Monday at the Kuala Terengganu Syariah High Court.
PKR President Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was quick to say that caning women is wrong, but there was nothing they could do about it, saying that the Syariah law on such behaviour is governed by the respective state’s religious departments and Putrajaya cannot do anything about it.
“I’m a practising Muslim, but I don’t share that interpretation and certainly that sort of action to publicly cane without proper due process and understanding,” Anwar had reportedly said during a press conference in Makati City, in the Philippines, on Tuesday.
“What are the higher objectives of the syariah? To ensure peace and security, justice, tolerance, education and understanding. That is not being done,” he added.
How to change state Syariah laws
Various lawyers have expressed their opinions on how Putrajaya can make the relevant amendment to laws governing state Syariah enactments at the federal level, much like how PAS President Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang tabled the bid in the Dewan Rakyat to change Act 355 to increase punishments that can be meted out by state Syariah courts.
However, while all this mere talk has been going on by politicians from the Pakatan Harapan government, the Sultan of Selangor, Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah took the matter into his own hands and decreed during his speech at the opening of the state assembly earlier this week, that the minimum age of marriage for Muslims in Selangor be set at 18.
He said he had instructed Selangor Islamic Religious Council (Mais) and the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) to change the existing Islamic laws.
The Sultan later said that both Mais and Jais have presented him with their proposal on how to amend the existing Syariah law in the state to ensure no Muslim under the age of 18 is allowed to marry.
Do note too, that there has been absolute silence on the Selangor Sultan’s decree be it from PAS, Umno, Amanah or any state mufti.
In his speech, Sultan Sharafuddin also thanked former Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Azmin Ali, who is now the nation’s first Economic Affairs Minister, for his contribution to the state and congratulated him on the new appointment in Putrajaya.
“I have faith and hope for Yang Berhormat Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali to always continue serving and carrying out his duties with full commitment for the sake of the people and nation,” he said.
The Selangor Ruler also advised all assemblymen to cooperate with the state executive council helmed by current Mentri Besar Amirudin Shari.
One can look at this at many levels, but simply put, Selangor, through the actions of its Ruler and likely upon the advice of its former and current MB, have presented the easiest solution to the issue of child marriage and caning under Syariah law.
Under the constitution, the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong is the head of Islam for the Federal Territories, while the state Rulers have the same authority in their respective states.
These Rulers have the right to issue a decree on the implementation of Syariah law at the state level.
Therefore, what Selangor has done should be followed by other states in Malaysia, not only on the issue of child marriage but also for other provisions such as public caning.
NMT hopes that Wan Azizah and Anwar will use their close ties with the Rulers and the Agong to influence the necessary changes to Syariah enactments in the country to put an end to child marriage and public caning once and for all.
After all, if Azmin and Amiruddin managed to do it in Selangor, Wan Azizah and Anwar Ibrahim are surely more than capable of doing the same.
-By Mujahidin Zulkiffli, NMT