Sarawak sees rise in teenage customary marriages in 2019

Fatimah Abdullah speaking at the One-Stop Teenage Pregnancy Committee (OSTPC) meeting.

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KUCHING, Dec 3: Sarawak has recorded an increase in teenage customary marriages from 384 cases in 2017 to 425 this year.

However, there is a decrease in teenage marriages under civil (180 cases in 2014 to 56 cases in 2019) and shariah (127 cases in 2017 to 107 cases in 2019) laws.

While Sarawak government fully supports the proposal to amend the minimum age limit of marriage to 18 years to address the problem of teenage marriage, Minister of Welfare, Community Wellbeing, Women, Family and Childhood Development Dato Sri Fatimah Abdullah said the marital legal system in Sarawak is different from Peninsula Malaysia’s.

Sarawak has three legal systems related to marriage, namely civil, shariah and customary marriage laws.

“The civil law in Sarawak has set 18 as the minimum age of marriage. However, in certain situations such as if the girls under the age of 18 are pregnant before marriage, they must obtain the state government’s approval through their respective divisional residents before they are allowed to marry.

“In the case of shariah law, the minimum age limit for marriage is 18 for men and 16 for women. In cases involving ages below that, they must obtain the approval of the shariah court,” Fatimah said after chairing the One-Stop Teenage Pregnancy Committee (OSTPC) meeting today.

For custom marriages, she explained that there was no rules on minimum age within the customary system.

However, in general, native community leaders and village heads have agreed that that the minimum age of marriage is 18 and Sarawak Native Customs Council (MAIS) is in the process of obtaining the consent of all parties to standardise the age limit as the issue of age limit did not exist in the customary system yet.

“Therefore, we need to have our own three separate standard operating procedures (SOP) with regards to child marriage through civil marriage, shariah and customary.

“SOP comes in importantly to ensure proper marriage, registration of the marriage and above all the well-being of the girl and child born out of this marriage is of top priority,” she said.

Fatimah also assured that state government would not allow minors to be legally married because if it involved girls under the age of 16, it would be considered statutory rape.

“I want to remind everyone that social issues such as teenage pregnancy, teenage pregnancy out of wedlock, teenage marriage are all our responsibility. This collective responsibility and ‘care for Sarawak’ must cut across public and private sectors, political divides and civil societies for the sake of sustainable community well-being in Sarawak,” she added.

Meanwhile, the ministry is still focusing on 10 main social issues this year, namely drug and substance abuse, teenage pregnancy, domestic violence, petty crimes, sexual crimes against women and children, marriage and divorce, STI, HIV and AIDS, homelessness, mental health and personal identification documents.

She assured that a lot of efforts have been done to address these issues since the establishment of OSTPC in 2014. —DayakDaily