PETALING JAYA - Women's groups are concerned with a report stating that 80,000 married women in Malaysia are still in their teens, saying that child marriage could be disastrous as it is detrimental to the mental and physical health of the youngsters.
Women's Aid Organisation executive director Ivy Josiah said those below the age of 18 were not physically or mentally ready for marriage commitments.
"This is especially so for girls, whose young bodies are not ready for pregnancy and subsequent childbirth. It is a contributing factor to maternal mortality," she said when contacted.
On Tuesday, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Malaysia released the "State of World Population 2014 Report" which cited a 2010 census, showing that 80,000 married females in Malaysia were aged between 15 and 19.
The number of married males in that age group was 70,000.
Sisters in Islam programme manager Suri Kempe said young couples often lacked access to contraception and sexual reproductive health information.
"They are exposed to frequent sexual relations, repeated pregnancies and childbirth before they are physically mature and psychologically ready.
"Pregnancy-related deaths are the leading cause of mortality among girls aged between 15 and 19. And girls under 15 are five times more likely to die than those over 20," she said.
Both Josiah and Kempe also expressed concern over their future, as most young couples tended not to further their education.
Citing the case of Mohd Muaz Mislan, 15, who took a 17-year-old bride in Johor on Nov 30, Kempe said: "He will be discontinuing his education to work and provide for his wife. But what kind of jobs are available to him?
"He is too young to even obtain a driving licence, much less a job that will sustain him and his wife, and the children they will have."
Kempe also said allowing child marriages would be creating a "nation of dependants" who would not only rely on their families to survive, but also on the country's social welfare system.
"Most of these marriages happen among children from lower income households. What they do is simply perpetuate the cycle of poverty," she said.
Josiah warned of the possible repercussions that such couples would experience as they adjusted to the requirements of married life.
"After marriage, they will have to assume new roles and responsibilities, as well as adapt to changes like their newly acquired relatives.
"They are children, but they are forced to grow up and become adults much earlier than they should," said Josiah, adding that many would discontinue their studies, thus stifling future opportunities.