By Ainul Huda Mohamed Saaid
KUALA LUMPUR, July 10 2018 : How can an 11-year-old claim to be in love with a man in his 40s?
That was the question on almost everyone’s lips as the nation reeled with shock and disgust over the news of a 41-year-old man taking on an 11-year-old girl as his wife.
The Child Act 2001 defines children in Malaysia as those aged 18 and below.
It was evident that a child her age should still be in school, cared for by her parents while experiencing the joys of childhood. A child in Standard 5 barely knows how to take care of her own self, what more to cater to the needs of a marriage.
Clinical psychologist Azlina @ Roszy Mohamad Ghaffar told Bernama that it was possible that in this case, as with many others similar, the child was not aware that she was in an illicit relationship.
Azlina, who has a private practice in Bangi, said that like in cases of sex with minors, victims were not even aware that they were being victimised because the offender had ‘groomed’ the child for a period of time before taking the relationship to the next level.
Grooming is done to lower the child’s inhibitions in order to establish an emotional connection with the child with the objective of sexual abuse. Offenders often take the time to establish a good relationship with the child and sometimes even the parents, as it would make the latter less inclined to believe in potential accusations.
“Among common grooming techniques are constantly complimenting or being nice to the victim, presenting them with gifts like candy or toys and normalising sexual behaviour,” she said.
Children are susceptible to such techniques because their intellect had yet to fully developed, said Azlina, who has over 15 years of experience handling social issues among teenagers.
“Intellectual development covers three sets of skills namely negotiation skills, problem-solving skills and decision-making skills.
“These skills are typically developed in secondary school, between the ages of 13 and 18,” she said.
Therefore, she said, children and pre-teens were in no way mentally or psychologically ready to assume the responsibilities that come with marriage.
In addition to that, Azlina said the psychological development of young girls were very much influenced by their biological developments.
Girls tend to get their first period between the ages of 10 and 12 years old. This is when their reproductive system first starts functioning and producing ovum.
“Even though sexual intercourse then can result in pregnancy, their ovaries are not strong enough to support the function.
“Their uterus (womb) will be susceptible to injuries during sex and they will face other risks like pregnancy and miscarriage. This will not only affect their physical health but their psychological health as well.
“And if the child were to give birth, would she be ready to assume the responsibilities of a mother?” Azlina questioned.
Underage marriages, particularly among Muslims, is not a new issue in Malaysia.
One of the most controversial cases was the marriage between Nor Fazira Saad, 12, and Mohd Fahmi Mohamed Alias, 20, in Kedah in 2014.
Another one that also caught public attention was the marriage of 17-year-old Nur Izzati Amiera Ishak and her 15-year-old boyfriend Muhd. Muaz Mislan, 15, in Johor in 2014.
However, the recent case in Gua Musang, Kelantan drew massive flak from the public as it involved a 41-year-old man and an 11-year-old girl.
Many strongly opposed the union, which allegedly happened with the blessings of the bride’s parents in Kampung Padang Nyor near Sungai Golok, Thailand in June. Some have even called it an act of paedophilia.
Sadly, there are also those who see it as acceptable by the religion.
The Mufti of Perlis, Associate Prof Datuk Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin when commenting on the issue on his Facebook page said that the Shafie school of thought, which Malaysian Muslims subscribe to, stipulates that a marriage cannot happen unless a woman enters into it under her free will.
However, he said, the “willingness” stated should be put into context.
“An underage girl does not understand the gravity of what she has consented to, and as such cannot be considered a willing participant.
“The realities and challenges of today are not the same as that of yesteryears. To survive modern times, our daughters need proper upbringing and education,” he explained.
Mohd Asri said that the girl’s father, who acted as ‘wali’ (one authorised to give away the bride) was also not qualified to act as one as he had married off his daughter due to poverty and with the intention of acquiring certain benefits from the union.
“Wali means protector. He is no longer a protector. In fact, he is a co-conspirator,” he said.
TOO LIGHT A PUNISHMENT
The President of the Malaysian Syarie Lawyers Association (PGSM) Musa Awang said that the marriage breached a lot of regulations under the Kelantan Islamic Family Law Enactment 2002.
Among the offences committed were the father or wali marrying off a child under the age of 16 years without the permission of the Syariah Court; the groom committing polygamy without permission and the guests attending the wedding as abetting to the crime. This includes the mother, the witnesses and the agents who arranged for the couple to marry in southern Thailand.
Each crime is punishable by a fine of not more than RM1,000 or a six-month prison sentence or both.
“However, the penalties are too light and does not serve as much of a deterrent,” he said.
He therefore called for state governments to review the fines and prison sentences for the crime of marrying off minors and committing polygamy without permission by setting the fines at RM5,000 and prison sentence extended to three years. – Bernama