Child marriage an education issue, says Wan Azizah

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KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 12 – Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail is still vague on the topic of child marriage, tying the issue to the education level of children in her latest remarks.

Speaking at a conference on Women and Family Development in Universiti Selangor yesterday, the deputy prime minister said the requirement for children to attend school up to secondary level is part of the catalyst to the ongoing efforts in raising the marriageable age to 18 in the country, Bernama reported.

“I am made to understand that 98% of children between the ages of seven and 17 are registered with schooling institutions.

“The government wants to ensure that every child is given the opportunity to receive a good education, to live healthy, to be successful and to have happiness and well-being in life,” she was quoted as saying.

Wan Azizah, who is also Women, Family and Community Development Minister added that the government had drawn up various programmes under the National Child Protection Policy and Plan of Action to build a safer and more prosperous life for children. But no details on whether this covered the issue of child marriage.

Many supporters of Pakatan Harapan, including those who are members of its component parties, have expressed their disappointment on the lack of political will nor action by Wan Azizah since the case of a 41-year-old Kelantanese man marrying an 11-year-old Thai girl on June 18 went viral.

This was compounded when another case was revealed of a 15-year-old girl being married to a 44-year-old man in Kelantan in July.

Powerless in Putrajaya

When referring to the second case last month, Wan Azizah said the couple had been married with approval from the Syariah Court in Kelantan, and as a result, Putrajaya could not do anything about it as it needed to abide by the states’ jurisdiction when it comes to Islamic laws.

Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad stepped in to calm the furore over her helplessness, saying he will look into the issue. Following his comments, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Dato’ Mujahid Yusof Rawa ordered all state religious authorities to follow the standard operating procedures (SOP) as issued by his office, as the person in charge of religious affairs.

Many observers had said, Mahathir’s intervention reflected how Wan Azizah simply has no ability to deal with the issues that really matter and is likely considered a pushover by many authorities, as well as fellow lawmakers in PH.

The solution to child marriage

It is wrong to claim nothing could be done to stop child marriages from taking place under state syariah laws.

The tabling of a private member’s bill by PAS President Dato Seri Abdul Hadi Awang to amend the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965, or known as Act 355, last year shows how the Dewan Rakyat can do the necessary to limit or expand the powers of syariah enactments at the state level.

Even if Putrajaya is still powerless over some areas of Islamic jurisdiction in the states, then Wan Azizah need look no further than Selangor for the fastest solution on the matter.

Selangor shows the way

Selangor Ruler Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah had in August decreed that child marriages will no longer take place in the state, saying that the minimum age under Syariah law be set at 18.

He had also ordered the state Islamic authorities to propose the necessary amendments and the law was duly changed at the state legislative assembly.

Use close ties to state rulers

So, Wan Azizah should rope in her husband Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, to take the issue directly to the rulers, who are said to be close to the new PKR president.

After all, they had visited these rulers shortly after Anwar received a full pardon from the Yang diPertuan Agong and was freed from prison last May.

Surely, they could make an appeal to the rulers to issue a similar decree to that which the Selangor Sultan had done.

Until then, the issue of child marriages will continue to be a burden on the back of the PH government.

-NMT