Nowadays the case of underage marriage in Malaysia is increasing with the statistic of 15,000 child marriage recorded these past years (Yeoh, 2018). This is a crucial matter because child marriage could give a huge impact on the adolescent. This lead to a question of whether Malaysia has a marriage age set in its law. Marriage age is defined as the minimum age requirement that allowed by the law, either as a right or subject to parental, judicial or other forms of approval for people to get married.
According to Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976, the marriage age is set to be 18, which the consent from parents or guardian is needed unless the person is above the age 21. However, a female who is 16 years old yet under the age of 21, can still get married if she is able to obtain a special marriage license granted by the Chief Minister through a form. As it been said, the marriage age in Malaysia should be increased, so child marriage and domestic violence can be avoided, underage marriage and domestic violence can be avoided, young females’ health can be secured, the youngsters can continue their education, improve youngsters’ mental health, the risk in divorce for underage marriage can be decreased, and put an end for manipulative adults.
Firstly, the marriage age should be increased to avoid child marriage and domestic violence. Child marriage is a formal marriage or informal union before the age of 18, and is now widespread and can lead to a lifetime of disadvantage and deprivation (Child marriage, 2018).
This is because, women who enter marriage in young age are more likely to be beaten or threatened by their husbands who would even justify their acts (Jensen & Thornton, 2003). As been stated by Bruce, Lloyd, and Leonard (1995), 40 to 80 percent of physical abuse experienced by women is done by the husband. This can also be called domestic violence, which is violence or other abuse by one person against another done in a domestic setting, such as in marriage or cohabitation. The statistic of domestic violence cases provided by the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), shows that a total of 15,617 cases involving domestic violence reported in Malaysia between 2014 and 2017. Hence, this shows how crucial it is to raise the marriage age so that underage marriage and domestic violence can be avoided.
Next, underage marriage would put the young females’ health at stake. As we all know, females’ health refers to the health of females, which differs from males. Females’ health is an example of population health, which defined as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” by the World Health Organization. Moreover, females’ reproductive and sexual health has a distinct difference compared to the males’. As being said, even in developed countries, pregnancy and childbirth are linked with substantial risks for women with maternal mortality. This happens when new brides are expected to be active in sex and even get pregnant. According to the United Nations, every year, there would be 16 million young girls who give birth, and some would go through compilations during pregnancy and childbirth which happen to be a major cause of death for girls aged 15-19 years old (Child Marriages: 39,000 Every Day – More than 140 million girls will marry between 2011 and 2020, 2013). According to Carole Presern, this kind of scenarios happen to the young girls due to their lack of knowledge and access about sex and needs, discouraged from using contraceptives, and needing their husbands’ permission. Therefore, it is important for the marriage age to be raised, so that these young girls’ health can be well secured.
Moving on, marriage age should be increased because it could give a negative effect towards education. Education is the process of facilitating learning, or the acquisition of knowledge, skills, values, beliefs, and habits. Besides that, education plays the key to a productive and good life as it improves the value and excellence of one’s life as well. Additionally, education eradicates poverty and motivates self-assurance (Campbell, 2006). According to Molobe Ikenna Daniel, a marriage entered by underage will affect the youngsters’ school enrolment. This is because many of these young brides could not pursue their education after they got married. Furthermore, in some cases, child brides are often pulled out of school and denied further education. This will lessen their chances in building their skills or help to lift their families out of poverty. Also, their children are also more likely to be illiterate which affects the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This can be proved through the Dropout Report 1973 (Murad Report) by the Ministry of Education Malaysia (MOE), which covered over 22,447 adolescents between the ages of 10 to 14 in Peninsula Malaysia with various levels of education (Fat, 1984). Thus, it is shown that marriage age should be increased so that the youngsters can continue their education without having their limit.
Besides that, the marriage age should be increased because underage marriage will affect the youngsters’ mental health. Mental health is a level of psychological well-being. It is the psychological state of a person who is functioning at a satisfactory level of emotional and behavioral adjustment. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) (2001), mental health includes subjective well-being, perceived self-efficacy, autonomy, competence, inter-generational dependence, and self-actualization of one’s intellectual and emotional potential, among others. According to a finding from the International Centre for Research on Women, mental health and the well-being of the youngsters’ will decline due to underage marriage, mainly for women who marry at a very young age. This can be seen in Ethiopia and Niger where underage marriage had a significant effect on women’s psychological well-being, even after looking out for other factors such as household wealth and experiences of violence from the partner that could give an impact towards their mental health (A Life Not Choosen: Early Marriage and Mental Health). Furthermore, according to a survey done by the Department of Psychology School of Health & Natural Sciences Sunway University College, the overall rates of mental health problems in young people in Malaysia, is between 13.4% – 15.5%, of which the prevalence was 10.4% in urban areas and 11.1 % in rural areas (Hsien-Jin, Jun, & Kuan). Thus this shows how crucial it is to increase the marriage age in Malaysia so that the youngsters’ well-being of mental health would be well taken care of as mental health has to become a very dangerous illness nowadays.
In addition, marriage age should be increased due to the high risks in early marriage. This is because age has been the most consistent and clear predictor of marital failure for years. According to Vivian E. Hamilton (2012), less than 30% of married couple who entered marriage at the age 25 and above, end in divorce. Meanwhile, approximately 70% of married couples who entered marriage before the age of 18 that end in divorce. The reasons for early marriages instability is due to the cognitive capacity of adolescent to understand the nature of marriage and the consent to enter marriage yet forget their lack in relationship skills and emotional maturity required in nowadays marriage. This can be said due to the incapability of the youngsters to think through over something as they would not think the impact but rather make a decision blindly to satisfy themselves. This is not merely the children fault as their cognitive process is put into a limit due to their age, lack of experience and knowledge, and also their problem-solving skills. Also, the absence in mutual negotiation or decision making between the partner is also the reason for underage marriage is at risk. There is no doubt that these young wives cannot make a decision in their marriage or engage in mutual negotiation with their adult husbands which lead to emotional disturbances, sexual abuse and domestic violence (Population Council Report, 2003). Hence, it can be seen that marriage age should be raised, so that high risk in underage marriage can be decreased.
Lastly, marriage age should be increased, so that adult men can no longer manipulate poor families or children to marry them. Nowadays, there is a lot of cases where young girls are manipulated into marrying adult men. This is because, they are promised by the men that they, along with their family will be pulled out from poverty if the girls agree to marry. The easiest scenarios that can be seen in Malaysia is the marriage between 11 years old girl with a 41 years old man. The girl’s family had given their statement which they came from a poor family and that the man promised to help their family if they let him marry their daughter. In this case, the man did not just manipulating the family and the girl but also taking advantage of their hardship. Also, the marriage done by this couple is believed to contradict with Child Act in 2001 under children marriage which stated that the minimum age of marriage can be determined by either civil law or Syariah (Islamic) law as Malaysia has a dual legal system. Non-Muslims may only marry from the age of 18, but girls can be married as early as 16 provided they or their parents have the permission of the State Chief Minister. The minimum age of marriage is 16 for Muslim girls and 18 for Muslim boys. Crucially, exceptions can be made for girls or boys to marry at a much younger age as long as they obtain Islamic courts’ consent (Child Act 2001, 2001). Thus, the marriage age should be increased, so that adults who are taking advantages and manipulative can be put to an end.
For conclusion, it is crystal clear that marriage age in Malaysia should be increased because underage marriage and domestic violence can be avoided, young females’ health can be secured, the youngsters can continue their education without limit, the mental health of the youngsters can be improved, the risk in divorce for underage marriage can be decreased, and also manipulative adults who take on advantages can be put to an end.