Sabah Mufti lacks knowledge on child marriage

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KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 24 – Sabah Mufti Datuk Bungsu @ Aziz Jaafar’s suggestion that legal age for marriage should be reduced to 14 and 16 for girls and boys, respectively, shows that he lacks knowledge in matters that impact child marriage.

The idea to reduce the age for marriage will cause serious problems for any child in their early teens. The justification that teenagers are more mature and more exposed to sex nowadays cannot be used to allow children to marry.

In Islam, marriage isn’t just about sex. Marriage is a responsibility that requires more than just physical and mental maturity to engage in sex.

It’s not just about sex

MalaysiaKini reported that Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Fuziah Salleh, expressed her disappointment over the Sabah Mufti’s statement.

“An edict by the National Council of Islamic religious affairs in 2011 stated that underage marriage brings more harm than good,” she said.

She said marriage was not just about sex, but also a responsibility to be shouldered by the married couple.

NMT spoke to Adrian Banie Lasimbang, a Senator from Sabah who echoed what Fuziah said.

“Child marriage is not just about sexual maturity.. It is about making sure the child involved also knows their responsibility as parents.

“The issue of child marriage issue is not about poverty, religion or traditions. It’s about the rights of the child, and the basic lack of awareness by our community leaders on current norms and laws.

“We must protect our child’s right to enjoy life as a child before being given the responsibility as an adult,” said Adrian.

Absolute madness!

That was the response from Johor Crown Prince Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim in response to the comments from the Sabah Mufti.

“Lowering the legal age of marriage for girls to 14? What the hell is happening to this country? Absolute madness!” Tunku Ismail said in a post on Twitter.

“Madness” was also the response of Khairy Jamaluddin, the former Youth and Sports Minister on the matter.

Islam emphasises economic ability to marry

Surah An Nisa’ in the Quran explained of the economic or financial ability of a man before they can marry a woman, and in particular, verse 25, that if a man cannot find the means (dowry) to marry a free woman, then he can marry his slave woman that he possesses should he fear he would sin (engage in unlawful sex) but Allah said that it is better to be patient.

Slavery, however, has been abolished in Islam and so in absence of slaves, Muslim men who can’t find the means to marry must be patient.

A dowry gives an indication of the man’s ability to provide for the woman and family.

Age 14 and 16 can’t get proper employment

Under the Sabah Labour Ordinance 1950, a person under the age of 15 is considered a child and those between 15 to 18 are considered Young Persons.

The Labour Ordinance allows Children and Young Persons to be employed. However, the there are restrictions as in terms of what kind of jobs they can be employed in and even very limited number of hours per day that they are allowed to work.

Children and Young Persons are not allowed to work at night. They are not allowed to work in various industries except in jobs involving light work.

For Children, they are not allowed to work more than six hours in a day. If a child is attending school on the same day, then total hours between school and their job cannot exceed seven hours.

For Young Persons, the allowance to work is just one hour more than for that of Children.

This means that a 14-year-old girl who still goes to school can’t work more than 2-3 hours, even if they are in school for only four hours). A 16-year-old boy spending the same time in school cannot work more than 3-4 hours.

How much can they earn by working such short hours? If they cannot earn, then how will they be able to manage the economic expectations of a marriage?

Marriage can be dissolved if husband fails to provide

Ability to provide at the economic level is very important in Islamic Syariah law, and this is the same for the Sabah’s Islamic Family Law Enactment  .

Under Section 53 of the Sabah Islamic Family Law Enactment, the syariah court can dissolve a marriage if the husband fails to provide for the wife for a period of three months.

This may contribute to the high number of divorce among young couples.

Can children be legal guardians for their own child?

Under Section 73 of the Sabah Islamic Family Law Enactment. it shall be the duty of a ‘man’ (not a boy) to maintain his children, whether they are in his custody or the custody of any other person, either by providing them with such accommodation, clothing, food, medical attention, and education as are reasonable having regard to his means and station in life or by paying the cost thereof.

With such limited opportunities to gain sufficient income under the Labour Ordinance, how can a 16-year-old boy provide for his own children sufficiently?

And there are various processes that will require an adult to make decisions for the child. Are we leaving it to a child to make decisions for their own children?

Contract Law 1950

NMT spoke to senior lawyer Dato’ Seri Rajan Navaratnam about the legality of a child signing a contract.

“Section 11 of the Contracts Act 1950 states that in order for a contract to be valid, that person must be of the age of majority, that being 18 years of age,” said Rajan.

How would a 16-year-old father sign a hospital form for his own children? He can’t even sign it for himself!

A 16-year-old cannot sign a tenancy agreement, so how would a young parent provide accommodation for the children? They can’t buy a house either. They can’t get electricity and water services under their own names.

Are these not enough reasons to show that child marriage is against the Quran as mentioned above?

How can a Mufti fail to see that child marriage is not just about sex?

A Mufti should work on how to educate young Muslims to not engage in sex when they are underaged, and not to give them the licence to have sex.

– Mujahidin Zulkifli, NMT