PETALING JAYA - In Malaysia, girls under the age of 16 cannot legally drive or buy cigarettes. They can't even watch certain movies or go clubbing. But they can marry - lawfully at that.
And many are increasingly doing so, according to statistics from the Malaysian Syariah Judiciary Department (JKSM).
In 2012, there were around 1,165 applications for marriage in which one party, usually the bride, is younger than the legal marrying age. The Syariah Courts approved 1,022 of them. This is an increase from the 2011 record, when some 900 marriages involving at least one Muslim minor were approved.
As of May this year, JKSM received 600 marriage applications, of which 446 had been approved.
In Malaysia, the legal minimum marriage age is 18, but it is 16 for Muslim girls. Those aged below 16 can marry with the consent of the Syariah Court.
Malaysia, along with over 90 other countries, adopted a United Nations resolution to end child, early or forced marriages, at the Human Rights Council last week.
However, JKSM's data shows that child marriage is very much rampant in Malaysia.
Sisters in Islam said it was shocking that child marriage still existed in the country because of loopholes in the marriage laws and a con-tinuing belief that girls should be married off once they reached puberty.
"We stand by the UN findings that child marriage is harmful to children and girls, in particular, are vulnerable to abuse, health problems, difficulty in accessing education and loss of childhood and adolescence," said SIS legal officer Kartina Mohd Sobri.
Given the significant number, the Government needed to review the provisions in secular, customary and Syariah law that currently permitted girls under the age of 18 to marry, said United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Malaysia programme adviser Saira Shameem.