KUALA LUMPUR: Today, on the International Day of the Girl Child themed, “With Her: A Skilled Girl Force”, we urge the Government of Malaysia to ban child marriage, end Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), and uphold the rights of the girl child as required by international conventions ratified by Malaysia.
Globally, one in five girls are said to married before the age of 18, and if this number isn’t reduced, there will be 1.2 billion girls who will be married as children by 2050, according to UN agencies. FGM, on the other hand, threatens about three million girls annually and at least 200 million girls and women have been cut in 30 countries, according to UNICEF.
“To realise the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Malaysia must end harmful practices such as child, early and forced marriages, and eliminate FGM by 2030,” said Sivananthi Thanenthiran, Executive Director of the Asian Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW), a regional NGO that champions sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and young people. “This is a critical part of the SDG 5 of achieving gender equality and empower all women and girls.”
Despite being a signatory to both the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination of Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), both these practices have high prevalence in Malaysia. Earlier this year, Sisters in Islam (SIS) and ARROW released a study, “Child Marriage: Its Relationship with Religion, Culture and Patriarchy, a National Report on Malaysia”. The report found that nearly 153,000 (152, 835) persons below the age of 19 were married, and were mostly from the Malay Muslim community. Of this, 80,000 were girls and the remaining were boys. The study, however, relied on government data from 2010.
Similarly, on FGM, few and far studies have been done in Malaysia. The practice is shrouded in silence as it is intermingled with cultural and ethnic demands alongside bodily autonomy – the right to control one’s own body, and bodily integrity – the right to autonomy and self-determination over one’s own body – of children and women.
Ms Thanenthiran added, “FGM has long lasting physical and psychological effects on girls. Similarly, child brides are neither physically nor emotionally ready to become wives and mothers. We need to protect the girl child so she can go on to freely decide on matters of sexuality and reproduction, to have the right to consent and bodily integrity, in the future. We strongly urge the Government of Malaysia to uphold gender equality and empower all women and girls in the country by ending both these practices immediately.”
The Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women is a regional non-profit women’s organisation based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. We have consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (UN ECOSOC) of the United Nations. ARROW strives to enable women to be equal citizens in all aspects of their life by ensuring their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) are achieved.
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