Malaysia rejects ban on under-18 unions, Germany moves to protect refugees
A Malaysian MP said girls as young as nine were physically and spiritually ready for marriage, as the Muslim-majority Southeast Asian country passed a law on sexual offences against children without criminalising child marriage.
Barisan Nasional coalition member Shabudin Yahaya made the comments in response to a proposal by an opposition member of parliament to amend the Sexual Offences Against Children bill to include a ban on child marriages.
The proposal was voted down by the majority of parliament.
Meanwhile, Germany’s cabinet yesterday moved to ban child marriages after the recent mass refugee influx brought in many couples where one or both partners were aged under 18.
In a debate on the Malaysian bill in parliament on Tuesday, Shabudin said: “They [girls] reach puberty at the age of nine or 12. And at that time, their body is already akin to them being 18 years old.
“So physically and spiritually, it is not a barrier for the girl to marry.”
He also said there was nothing wrong with a rape victim marrying her rapist as she would then not face a bleak future.
His comments sparked outrage on social media, with some opposition politicians asking for him to be fired.
In a statement yesterday Shabudin said his comments were taken out of context, and that marriage was not a “backdoor exit to legalise rape”.
He said he rejected the motion to ban child marriages as it was contrary to provisions in Sharia law.
Under both civil law and Islamic law, girls and boys under 18 can be married.
Civil law sets the minimum age of marriage at 18, but those above 16 can be married with the permission of their state’s chief minister.
Under Islamic law, children younger than 16 can get married if the Sharia courts allow it.
The law passed on Tuesday makes no mention of child marriage. It criminalises “grooming” – touching and befriending children as a prelude to sexual abuse – and spells out penalties for making and possessing pornography involving those under 18.
Germany’s new law, set to receive parliamentary approval by July, is seen as a protective move especially for girls by annulling foreign marriages involving minors.
It would allow youth welfare workers to take underaged girls into care even if they were legally married abroad and, if deemed necessary, to separate them from their husbands.
“Children do not belong in the marriage registry office or the wedding hall,” Justice Minister Heiko Maas said.
“The underaged must be protected as much as possible.”
He stressed that no minors should suffer restrictions on their asylum or residential status as a result of the change.
The age of consent for all marriages in Germany would be raised from 16 to 18. Currently in some cases an 18-year-old is allowed to marry a 16-year-old.
Foreign marriages involving spouses under 16 would be considered invalid, and those involving 16or 17-year-olds could be annulled by family courts.
Exceptions were possible – for example when one of the spouses suffered from a serious illness — but only if the couple were now both adults and wanted to stay married.
The draft law would also punish with a fine any attempts to marry minors in traditional or religious rather than state ceremonies.
There were 1 475 married minors registered in Germany last July – 361 of them aged under 14 – according to the latest figures released after a parliamentary request.
Of these 1 152 were girls, the interior ministry said.
The largest group, 664 children, came from Syria followed by 157 from Afghanistan, 100 from Iraq, and 65 from Bulgaria.
The conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung welcomed the bill, saying that archaic practices that harmed women and children had no place in Germany.
The non-profit German Children’s Aid Foundation said it generally welcomed the new draft law, but said courts should have latitude in some tricky cases where one spouse was aged 16 or 17. The opinion of the minor should then be taken into account. – Reuters, AFP