Government has an obligation to raise the minimum marriage age for Muslim girls

Lawyers for Liberty refers to the statement given by the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Religious Affairs) Idris Ahmad that the government will be maintaining the minimum marriage age of Muslim girls at 16.

With Malaysia having ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw) in 1995, the government is duty bound to give effect to Article 16(2) of Cedaw, which is to take all necessary action to prevent child marriages.

The definition of children has been clearly stipulated under our own Age of Majority Act 1971, which declares that those under the age of 18 are minors under the law. This is in line with the definition given under Article 1 of the Conventions on the Rights of Child, which Malaysia also ratified in 1995.

The Federal List under Ninth Schedule of the Federal Constitution unequivocally states that the implementation of international treaties is well within the purview of the federal government. The government cannot shirk its obligation under international law by justifying that the issue of marriage of Muslim girls is within the exclusive powers of the State. By opting to use this excuse, the government is knowingly breaching Malaysia’s international obligation under Cedaw and the Convention on the Rights of the Child – which is an internationally wrongful act.

Thus, the federal government must take all necessary steps to ensure state governments raise the minimum marriageable age for Muslim girls to honour Malaysia’s obligation under Cedaw. If they do not relent, then the federal government is duty-bound to make necessary amendments to the Federal Constitution to give itself the power to raise the minimum marriage age of Muslim girls and to outlaw child marriages in the country once and for all.

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Zaid Malek is coordinator of Lawyers for Liberty

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