PETALING JAYA - The best interests of the child must prevail and must not be superseded by traditional practices when it comes to child marriages, said Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) chairman Tan Sri Hasmy Agam.
Hasmy, who said Suhakam "stands firm" on its stance on traditional practices, added in a press release issued on Friday that under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the government has committed to ensuring the overall protection and well-being of children.
"Suhakam calls for more awareness and education campaigns as well as a national dialogue with the aim of adopting a clear and unambiguous position on child marriages. The authorities must also address the legislative inconsistencies between religious, customary and civil marriages," said Hasmy.
He added that Suhakam was concerned with the findings of the United Nation "Population and Housing Census Malaysia" report.
The report, which cited a 2010 census, highlighted that approximately 82,000 married women in Malaysia were girls between the ages of 15 and 19, while there were 70,000 young married men of a similar age.
"While boys are occasionally subjected to early marriage, in general, girls are disproportionately affected and form the majority of the victims of child marriages. Therefore, the Commission also recommends that the government amend domestic laws to raise the legal age of marriage for all to 18 years," said Hasmy.
He added that the amendment of domestic laws regarding marriage would bring the law in compliance with the Child Act 2001 which defines children as those below the age of 18.
"Suhakam is of the opinion that child marriage is a grave human rights violation, which could significantly impact a child's rights to health, education, equality, non-discrimination and to live free from violence and exploitation," said Hasmy.
Aside from the UN report which was released on Tuesday, child marriages were thrust into the spotlight this week when a 15-year-old boy ended his bachelorhood early when he married his 17-year-old girlfriend here after dating for only about two months.
Muhd Muaz Mislan, 15, and Nur Izzati Amiera Ishak, 17, tied the knot on Nov 30 and captured the attention of social media after the newlyweds posted photos and a video of their akad nikah (solemnisation ceremony) on Facebook.