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Girls & Women

The Very Important Reason Malaysians Are Saying #StudentNotSpouse


Why Global Citizens Should Care
Though the minimum age of marriage in Malaysia is technically 18, legal loopholes allow children to be married much younger. Poverty and lack of education are among the main drivers of child marriage, a harmful practice that disproportionately impacts girls, and some 16,000 Malaysian girls were married as children. You can take action here to help end child marriage everywhere and achieve gender equality.

Outrage over the recent marriage of a 41-year-old Malaysian man to an 11-year-old girl has reignited a conversation about child marriage in the country, leading a group of NGOs to launch #PelajarBukanPengantin (#StudentNotSpouse or #SchoolNotSpouse), a social media campaign to end child marriage, last week.

The Malaysian government has said it is “unequivocally” opposed to child marriage and that steps are being taken to raise the minimum marriage age for all to 18, according to Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail. But activists are calling for action and stricter laws.

Take Action: Tell world leaders to stop child marriage for good

“This campaign was started by a group of concerned citizens who want to make child marriages a matter of history in 2018,” lawyer Robyn Choi told The Star on behalf of the campaign. “If there is any time to push for a change, it is now … This is not a problem faced by a particular community. This is a Malaysian problem and we need everyone to get involved.”

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While the minimum age of marriage in Malaysia is 18 under civil law, girls as young as 16 can be married with the permission of the chief minister of their state. However, Malaysia has two legal systems, and under Sharia law, Muslim girls can be married at any age with the approval of a Sharia court.

Read more: 41-Year-Old Man Fined Just $450 Over Marriage to 11-Year-Old Girl

Malaysia’s child marriage statistics are not widely available, but the country’s family and community development deputy minister reported in 2010 that 16,000 girls under the age of 15 were married. 

In countries like Malaysia, where the legal age of marriage is already set at 18, legal loopholes allow children to be married before they are ready. Often this means they lose out on the opportunity to finish their education and pursue their dreams.

Both poverty and lack of education are major drivers of child marriage globally, according to UNICEF, and the harmful practice disproportionately affects girls. More than 650 million girls and women alive today were married as children.