Dozens of child rights activists held a rally outside the Malaysian parliament on Tuesday before submitting a petition calling for an end to child marriage.
The demonstrators, which included dozens of schoolgirls, delivered a memorandum and petition with over 156,000 signatures to the government, an epa-efe journalist reports.
Several government representatives, including deputy ministers, were present to collect the petition outside parliament.
The issue of child marriage gained prominence after reports emerged in July this year that a 41-year-old Kelantan man had taken an 11-year-old girl as his third wife, leading to calls from activists and politicians in Malaysia and abroad to ban the practice.
Girls Not Brides, a collection of over 1,000 civil groups committed to ending child marriage, says that child marriage in Malaysia “is largely driven by tradition and culture” which is “accepted as a traditional practice by many sections of society.”
A 2010 United Nations report showed that over 82,000 married females in the country were girls between the ages of 15 and 19. The former deputy minister for women in the same year revealed that nearly 15,000 girls below the age of 15 were married, according to Girls Not Brides.
Last month, the chairman of the Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam), Razali Ismail, said child marriage was a human rights violation and not a solution to poverty.
"Suhakam is worried if this practice continues (child marriage), parents can sell their children legally according to law in the form of marriage as a solution to poverty by turning children into commodities," he said in a statement, according to the state-owned Bernama news agency.
Deputy Minister for Religious Affairs and member of parliament for the People's Justice Party in the Pakatan Harapan government coalition, Fuziah Salleh, who was present outside parliament, told the rally that child marriage violated a judicial ruling (fatwa) in 2014, which stated that “these marriages do more harm than good, especially with regard to the health and psychology of the children involved.”