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Child Marriage: A Sheer Cover For Paedophilia

by on 26/07/2018     573 2368

Recently, Malaysia was faced with yet another case of child marriage. A 41-year-old Malay Muslim man from the state of Kelantan marrying an 11 years old girl believably from Thailand. A photo of the said man holding the girl's hand after the marriage ceremony emerged on the internet where it soon went viral. The news has sent many Malaysians reeling in shock. Netizens were saddened, and angered by it. To rub salt into the wound, the groom, known as Che Abdul Karim Che Abdul Hamid, was already a married man. He has two wives and six children aged between 5 and 18 at the time when his third polygamous marriage with the said child-bride was solemnised in Thailand.

Child marriage in Malaysia is mainly driven by two key factors, tradition and culture. Religion and culture are inseparable. The former influences the latter in many ways, or vice versa. Beliefs and practices are uniquely cultural. Hence why some religions are deemed to be a way of life. It thus came as no surprise to see some people take their religion very seriously. Hundreds of studies continue to substantiate how religious beliefs are able to influence one's sociology and psychology, without many of us realising it.

The big question remains, why does the practice of child marriage is still thought to be acceptable in Malaysia? The answer to such a question lies largely in the law, or lack thereof. And there are reasons to why Malaysia has yet committed to passing a law banning the practice of child marriage. Our values, our morality and our law are inevitably interrelated. They develop from one another. The practice is nonetheless directly attributable to several factors. But one that's arguably deemed to be the most assertive factor among all the factors goes back to how certain topics of Islamic studies are taught in our schools. One that many of us deliberately refused to analyse, highlight and interject.

Che Abdul Karim is perhaps one of the many regrettable, unintended effects of the sort of the education system that continues to demand blind obedience to Hadith literature. For it is from the Hadith, the so-called authentic hearsay reports that the practice of child marriage, whether intentional or not, was first suggested if not encouraged. Hadith is a collection of the traditions or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, promulgated two hundred years after Muhammad's death by the famous jurist Imam Shafi`i. Apart from the Quran, the vast majority of Muslims are also taught to uphold hadith as a primary source of law and ethics.

Che Abdul Karim was later fined RM1,800 by the Gua Musang Syariah court; he was charged under Section 19 and Section 124 of the Kelantan Islamic Family Law Enactment. There, a verdict meant not to remind nor to frighten but simply to ensure that everyone can now become a paedophile at a price nearly everyone will be able to afford.

What does Thailand have to say about marriages involving a minor? Sadly, under the Thai Civil and Commercial Code, section 1436, child marriage is permissible. According to Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), Thailand is, in fact, one of the 20 countries with the highest absolute numbers of child marriage during the period 2010-2016. True, child marriage is a global problem that occurs across countries, cultures and religions. And the practice has been known to be compulsively fuelled by poverty, gender inequality and traditions, among others. But what drives the practice of child marriage will differ from segments of society to the next.

Yehezkel Dror, a former professor of political science at Hebrew University, Jerusalem, in his journal article titled "Values and the law" published in "The Antioch Review" in 1957, wrote:

"One of the more important repositories and expressions of the values of any society is its law. By its very nature, law consists of a number of norms which constitute obligatory rules of behaviour for the members of society. These legal norms are closely related to various social values, being either a direct expression of them or serving them in a more indirect way. Furthermore, the extent to which the various legal norms command obedience depends to a large extent on the degree to which they express or are in accord with generally accepted social values."

Religion is an essential part of one's culture. Prominent researchers define culture differently from one another. Clifford Geertz, an American anthropologist, described culture in 11 different aspects:

  • (a) the total way of life of a people

  • (b) the social legacy the individual acquires from his group

  • (c) a way of thinking, feeling, and believing

  • (d) an abstraction from behaviour

  • (e) a theory on the part of the anthropologist about the way in which a group of people in fact behave

  • (f) a storehouse of pooled learning

  • (g) a set of standardized orientations to recurrent problems

  • (h) learned behaviour

  • (i) a mechanism for the normative regulation of behaviour

  • (j) a set of techniques for adjusting both to the external environment and to other men

  • (k) a precipitate of history.

Edward Twitchell Hall, on the other hand, described culture as "a series of situational models for behaviour and thought." Based on these insightful references, one can therefore postulate that; an effort to deconstruct issues pertaining to cases of child marriage among Malay Muslims in Malaysia should begin with one's willingness to admit that the relationship between religion and culture is both intrinsic and coactive. As Stewart M. Hoover has eloquently described, "culture and religion are inseparable and religion is an important consideration in theories of culture and society."

According to the United Nations' reports, nearly 16,000 girls in Malaysia below the age of 15 in 2010 were already in a marriage. According to the Penang Institute, nearly 9,000 child marriages took place between 2010 and 2015 and of that total, 6,268 were Muslims. It has happened before. It's definitely going to happen again. This, if anything, goes to show that just how sickeningly normalised it has become.

The real question remains, how do we challenge such social norms that reinforce the practice of child marriage, when at the same time;

A) Our education system continues to encourage it

B) Our legal system makes no effort to criminalise it

C) Our fatwa pays no heed to it

And Che Abdul Karim is one such character that's so relatable to so many people of his ilk. A practitioner of polygamous marriage, a rubber scrap dealer by day, an Imam who leads the prayers by night, and a recent paedophile by profession, if one may add. Even sadder is the fact when many came to his defence.

Malaysia does have a set of laws on sexual offences against children. Passed by parliament as recently as last year, 2017. But these laws are not directly applicable to cases of child marriage. The said law falls under "Act 792, Sexual Offences Against Children Act 2017," briefly known as SOACA. None of which considers child marriage an offence. The SOACA law criminalises, among others:

  • Offences relating to Child Pornography
  • Offences Relating To Child Grooming
  • Offences Relating To Sexual Assault
  • Person In A Relationship Of Trust
  • Capacity and Evidence of Child Witness
  • Miscellaneous

Bear in mind that, all these sex offences cease to be effective the minute the offender decides to marry the child whom he has sexually communicated with, or whom he intended to sexually communicate with. Because again, marital rape or child marriage, is not a crime in Malaysia.

*This is the personal opinion of the writer*

Reference:Interpretation of culture,Beyond Culture, Rethinking Media, Religion and Culture.