Banning Child Marriages – Azalina Wants Ministry to Continue PH’s Good Work

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Umno supreme council member Azalina Othman Said believes the government should continue its predecessor’s good work.

She was responding to a question on whether the Perikatan Nasional government would be successful in banning child marriages and if Umno would support the move.

“… all issues related to syariah laws are dealt with at the state level. The sultan or the Conference of Rulers would be the proper authority to address this concern.

“Nevertheless, I believe the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry should continue to champion this matter and lead a continuous dialogue with all relevant stakeholders, including Umno.

Seth Akmal/TMI

“Good work by the previous Harapan government should continue,” she told Malaysiakini in an email interview.

Previously, former women, family and community development deputy minister Hannah Yeoh had expressed concern that the national road map to fight child marriages would be brushed aside.

The DAP lawmaker raised the issue following the appointment of PAS’ Siti Zailah Mohd Yusoff, who had a track record of defending child marriage, as her successor.

Siti Zailah had argued that underage marriage cannot be equated with sexual offences against children, which is an act of violence while the former was a blessing.

Reacting to Yeoh, Siti Zailah mentioned that in 2017 a total of 1,845 minors married adults – from that number, 52.5 percent were non-Muslims and 47.5 percent Muslims.

She added that out of the 52. percent, 39.6 percent were Chinese.

Turning to religion, Siti Zailah then posed the following question to Yeoh -“I am confident that YB who is a Christian would disagree with the excessive freedoms given to youths these days. Does YB have a different solution to these problems?”

In March this year, Azalina, who is a former de facto law minister, urged Siti Zailah not to allow religion to be used as a means to justify the sexual exploitation of children.

“Don’t use religion to negate or manipulate protective laws for our children especially the Sexual Offenses Against Children Act 2017.

“Please, don’t allow predators to use marriage as a way out (or way in!) to justify sexual exploitation,” she said.

She said this in response to Siti Zailah’s remarks that policies, including the ban on child marriages, that were not against Islam would go on.

Should we be concerned about PAS in government?

Meanwhile, Azalina was also quizzed on the concern, especially among non-Muslims, on PAS being a part of the PN administration, which could translate into the implementation of hardline policies for all Malaysians.

The Pengerang MP suggested that the views of non-Muslims living in the PAS-controlled states of Kelantan and Terengganu be obtained to determine if such concern is legitimate.

“I often find this to be a typical question when a conservative political party like PAS is referred to in any discussion or dialogue.

Intan Nur Elliana Zakaria/NST

“It would be wise to seek the opinions of non-Muslims living in states run by PAS governments like Kelantan and Terengganu as they can speak from personal experiences,” she added.

Azalina said Malaysians must bear in mind that constitutionally, individual states are in charge of their own state Islamic laws.

“So, if the federal government imposes a legislation, the buy-in of state administrations and royal households is critical. This is where conflict often arises, for example, anti-child marriage law, conversion law etc.

“In introducing any new legislation, there must be an open discussion with all members of the coalition government.

“Therefore, Malaysians should not preempt the imposition of hardline conservative laws which will impact on the overall social construct of the Malaysian society.

“As a parliamentarian hence a lawmaker, I believe it is my role to advocate for new laws or alter existing laws to be passed through the Parliament.

“I would like to think that parliamentarians both in government and opposition will deliberate on federal legislation in the best interest of the rakyat,” she added. – Malaysiakini