KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 31 – The Pakatan Harapan state government in Perak plans to amend Section 23 of the Islamic Family Enactment (Perak) 2004 to make polygamy easier for Muslim men, Bernama reported.
According to Perak exco Asmuni Awi, under the existing enactment, the Syariah Court could not approve of a man getting married again without his first wife being present in court to state her case.
“Some wives agree to allow their husbands to be polygamous but do not like to appear in court.
“So the amendments will give the court the discretion whether to call the wife to appear in court,” he was quoted as saying by the national news agency.
Asmuni said this at the launch of a talk on “Understanding Polygamy in Perak” in Ipoh today.
Aside from the excuse that some wives are reluctant to appear in court, there is no valid reason given to make the amendment to the relevant Syariah law.
The step could be seen as a regressive one for Muslim women, as they may not get the only recourse needed to prevent their husbands from taking on a second wife based on reasons that only they could present in court.
Better to amend child marriage law like Selangor
Furthermore, this moves gives an idea of the priority for the Perak state government on their rush to amend this law over the more important Syariah legislation that could be made to raise the minimum age for child marriage to 18, like in the case of Selangor.
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 relevant Syariah law was duly changed at the state legislative assembly.
Perak MB says child marriage is “cruel”
Interestingly, Perak Mentri Besar Ahmad Faizal Azumu had in August been reported as saying he was personally opposed to child marriages. However, he had not announced any plans to raise the minimum age to 18, like in Selangor.
The Perak Islamic Family Enactment 2004 has set a minimum marriage age for female Muslims in the state to 16.
“Today, at the age of 16 or lower, I think it is cruel to marry children off when they have far more options in the world today.
“Things have changed from the past when underaged marriages were common, and added that parents have a duty to prepare their children to be independent and equip them with life skills to set up their own households before marriage.
“I am a Muslim and I understand that someone has the right to be married or marry when they have reached akil baligh,” the Perak Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia chairman was quoted as saying by Malay Mail.
“Akil baligh” is the Islamic term for puberty.
“Children cannot be taking care of their own children”
Faizal was also reported as saying that parents must give children below 18 the highest education possible and the skills to take care of themselves instead of getting them married.
“Married children might be forced to care for their own children before they were ready to do so, which was not an easy task.
“For no reason, a young mother at the age of 16 or 17 could have to take care of her own child. Come on lah, we have to be respectful towards women,” he was quoted as saying in the August meeting with the media.
Perak MB, Mufti differ on child marriage
However, Faizal, who is both Chenderiang assemblyman and Tambun MP, made it clear that it was only his personal opinion (on girls below 18 getting married) and that his comments should not be taken as the state government’s official stand, as the minimum age for marriage in the state remains 16 and not 18.
His personal opinion contradicts that of Perak Mufti Harussani Zakaria who was reported as saying that he was against the proposal to increase the age limit of marriage to 18 as it could open the door for adulterous affair among teens
Harussani added that raising the minimum age of marriage to 18 also goes against Islamic law.
If Selangor could do it…
This raises the question of how Selangor could easily amend the law by the decree of its ruler, while the same has not happened in other states.
Many legal experts were of the opinion that other states could follow in Selangor’s steps, especially if the state rulers were of the same opinion of their Selangor counterpart.
The issue of child marriage made the news after two cases of child marriage were highlighted just months after Pakatan Harapan took over Putrajaya.
On June 18, the case of a 41-year-old Kelantanese man marrying an 11-year-old Thai girl went viral. This was followed by another case of a 15-year-old girl being married to a 44-year-old man in Kelantan in July.