KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia will introduce laws to protect the interest and well-being of those involved in child marriages.
Malaysia Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail on Thursday (Nov 15) said the government will table the Bill on the Islamic Family Law (Federal Territories) Act 1984 in Parliament by the middle of next year.
"For non-Muslim underage marriage, the memorandum of the Cabinet on the proposed amendments to the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 (Act 164) will be tabled in the Cabinet Meeting in 2019.
"These amendments will include the need to submit social reports, health reports and reports from the Royal Malaysian Police for the application of underage marriage under Act 164 which is headed by the Home Ministry," she said.
Dr Wan Azizah, who is also Women, Family and Community Development Minister, said several states had taken proactive and creative steps in implementing standard operating procedures on this issue.
"For example in Kedah, besides having to submit a social report for underage couples who want to marry, they also need to go to the Social Welfare Department (JKM) after their marriages for counselling sessions for monitoring purposes, until they are 18 years old.
"Selangor too, which has also has an understanding with the state JKM, ensured that the Social Report submitted for the application of underage marriages should take into account the background, education, socio-economic and living conditions of the children," she said.
Dr Wan Azizah also told Parliament that the notion that underage marriage is a way out of social problems and poverty is not a solution and the perception must be changed.
She added that the government would not compromise on matters pertaining to children and the protection of the rights of the group was a priority.
"In addition to the amendments of the law being undertaken, the government is implementing poverty eradication programmes and raising awareness of parents and guardians to ensure that children did not drop out of school until the age of 17.
"The ministry is adamant that children should be given the opportunity to develop their full potentials in education. In this regard, the ministry will continue to work with all stakeholders towards the achievement of child protection goals, "she said.
Dr Wan Azizah was responding to Member of Parliament Khairy Jamaluddin who wanted to know the improvement efforts to tighten approvals for underage marriages and the government's willingness to amend the existing law to prevent any form of underage marriages in the future.
In July, Dr Wan Azizah said that the Malaysian government "unequivocally" opposes child marriages and that it is already taking steps to raise the minimum age of marriage to 18.
According to a report in The Star, Dr Wan Azizah said on Thursday that although the Federal Government has proposed that the minimum age for marriage be fixed at 18, only Selangor had done so.
She added that other states such as Melaka, Penang, Kedah, Johor and Sabah had indicated their intention to follow suit.