Marianne Clark Hattingh stated her opinion that “child marriage is not acceptable”. In a an article with the namesake published by The Malay Mail Online on April 6, 2017 she stressed her stance on the issue. In the piece of writing representing United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) there was objection with respect to the marriage of children aged 9-12.
First and foremost, the issue at hand is statutory rape, i.e. committed with the consent of the underaged girl and not forced. Before we go on discussing about the viability of underage marriage, the phenomenon is not unique to Malaysia. In the United States of America, as many as an estimated 248,000 child marriages took place between 2000 and 2010.
We are not saying that the Land of Opportunities should be idolised in any way, however the emphasis is on the global occurrence. Given that the United Nations is located in New York, perhaps resolving issues back at home should be prioritised.
Ceteris Paribus, there is a legitimate concern with respect to the negative impact on children’s development into adulthood. Many are forced to drop out of school, thus reducing their chances to obtain better education. Education that could have changed the situation of their families. Perhaps in a family that only has daughters, learning would be of grave economic importance. The affects of education or lack thereof would not be limited to the personal sphere but involves the society at large.
Statistically speaking, the concern is valid however practically not so. Primarily because, the article merely mentions disruption to learning opportunities and does not state relevant statistics with regards to the matter. In a study published by Girls Not Brides, 60% of child brides in developing countries have no formal education. Perhaps it is due to the lack of education in their society that they end up in such circumstances. Rather than child marriage being the reason of lack of continual education it seems to be the other way around.
Correlation does not necessitate causality, just because a person marries early hence the future is bleak. In other words, they might not be able to continue education. Teo Nie Ching a Member of Parliament for the constituency of Kulai from DAP, suggested sweetheart defence. In other words sex with consent outside of marriages for underaged children.
Ostensibly some people view marriage as a means to obligate responsibility on the young. It has to be noted, that sex comes with responsibilities, there is not getting away. How would a child that gets pregnant albeit sanctioned by law under sweetheart defence, take care of a child? Without having a responsible father and/or mother who would take care of that child upon birth? And that leads to another problem, “unwanted pregnancies”. When you have a teenager who is not supposed to be pregnant, but is pregnant, then the poor sinless soul is expendable.
The sad nature of the scenario is a cause for concern, extramarital sex among teens. A situation where nobody wants to be responsible. Not the girl and definitely not the boy wants to raise the child. Would it not be better if there was a form of responsibility from both sides via marriage? Not forgetting the responsibilities of parents on both divides. Parents of child brides are as responsible as the brides themselves. They can’t just leave those poor souls to fend for themselves.
Given UNICEF’s opinion on the matter, local statistics, scenario and culture has to be taken into account. The piece did not mention the adverse affects of child marriages locally, how many died, how many performed abortions etc. It has to be noted that Malaysia has among the best healthcare in the world, and should not be set at par with the less fortunate.
Prescriptions should be given taking into account the local scenario. Solutions provided should reflect local values and amenities available. It is easy to say that child marriages should not be allowed, but who will be responsible for the actions of those children that are adult in nature? Many a times the liberal values that accept child sex, abortion and other irresponsible acts are not really applicable here at home. Sex comes with responsibilities and everyone involved including the parents, should be held responsible for the actions of their children.
Child marriages can save future embarrassment for those ensnared, provided that everyone plays their part. Education should not be stopped, healthcare advice obtained and responsibilities learned. Both allowance and prohibition should be thoughtfully considered on a case to case basis and cannot be generalised across the board.