PETALING JAYA - Marrying off children to prevent them from committing sin or shaming the family is a practice that should be stopped as it does not protect the mental, physical and even economic security of children.
Sisters in Islam communications officer Aliah Ali said families should change this mindset.
"Misinterpretation and literal interpretation of religion has contributed to the increase in the number of child marriages.
"Such misinterpretation, combined with the stigma associated with premarital pregnancy, shows early marriage to be a more attractive option than providing comprehensive sex education," she said.
Sunday Star quoted a United Nations State of the Population Fund 2014 report which said that more than 150,000 Malaysian children had married before the age of 19.
According to the Malaysian Syariah Judiciary Department, there were about 600 applications for underage marriages last year and 74 per cent of these were approved by the Syariah Court.
Aliah cited a 2013 case where a 40-year-old man in Sabah married his 13-year-old rape victim with permission from the Syariah Court.
"In the Quran, Surah An-Nisa verse 6 talks about marriageable age as 'sound judgment' and 'maturity of mind' and that puberty alone is insufficient in allowing child marriage.
"This shows that Islam demands that we allow children to mature before being hastily married off," she said.
Women's Aid Organisation also agrees that children should not be forced into a lifelong commitment which could adversely affect their education, health and basic rights.
"Malaysia has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw), committing to end child marriage, yet it is still legally possible for children to marry.
"The Government has a duty to ensure that child marriage becomes a thing of the past.
"There is no excuse for allowing child marriage to continue," it said.
Both organisations urged the government to review the provisions in secular, customary and Syariah laws that now permit those under the age of 18 to marry.
"There is an urgent need to educate teenagers of the reality of marriage and the responsibilities that come with it," said Aliah.
She said with Malaysia having secured a non-permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council, there should be a stronger commitment to ratify international obligations under Cedaw and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which fight to end child marriage.