You Must Be 18; Sabah Government Acts To End Child Marriages

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Jannie Lasimbang and Radoslaw Rzehak, UNICEF Deputy Representative in Malaysia showing some of the awareness campaign posters.

By GM THOMAS
KOTA KINABALU: The Ministry of Law and Native Affairs is committed to ending child marriages in Sabah by setting 18 years old as the minimum age to get wedded.

This will be done through legal reforms, and the ministry has begun development of an action plan with stakeholders at a 3-day workshop from July 1-3, jointly organised by the Sabah Ministry of Law and Native Affairs and UNICEF.

Key stakeholders were brought together to discuss proposed legal reforms, map current interventions, learn from regional and global trends and best practices to address child marriage, and develop an action plan with next steps and responsibilities included.

These stakeholders comprised of policymakers, government officials, judiciary officers, and civil society organisations, according to a statement by Jannie Lasimbang, Assistant Minister of Law and Native Affairs on Wednesday.

“Children and youth should be given the right to a childhood, a time before the busy-ness begin. They should not be thinking about household matters,” said Nur Mashitah Matusin, 17, a Girl Guide from SMK Agama Kota Kinabalu.

“It is not fair for a youth to carry the heavy responsibility of being a wife and mother.”

As one of the outcome of this workshop, the ministry will form a taskforce to discuss legal amendments, oversee the development and implementation of action plan and continue to strategise on this issue.

“This is a multi-stakeholder, inter-ministerial matter and we will continue consulting and obtaining commitments and the required support from all parties,” said Jannie.

“The children have spoken, and we must listen – we need to end child marriage urgently. Child marriage robs a child, not only of their childhood, but also of their future” said Radoslaw Rzehak, UNICEF Deputy Representative in Malaysia, who was also present at the conference.

“UNICEF is committed to support the implementation of the Sabah state action plan and will continue to extend its technical expertise and support to the Ministry and other stakeholders.

“Sabah is showing the way in making sure that without exceptions, no child is married before the age of 18. This is a significant gift for every child on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.”

The seminar was attended by participants from the government, judiciary, and civil society organisations including Deputy Minister of Education and Innovation, Jennifer Lasimbang and Deputy Minister of Health and People’s Wellbeing, Norazlinah Arif.

Among others were Native Court judges, Syariah Court, representative from the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development, State Attorney General of Sabah, SUHAKAM, Sabah Law Society, child rights and community-based NGOs, and the Girl Guides Association of Malaysia.