Sunday, May 1, 2016

Malaysia - Too young to marry

CHILD marriages will do more harm than good to children, according to several paediatricians interviewed by MetroPerak.

Malaysian Paediatric Association President Dr N. Thiyagar said, as far as paediatricians are concerned, girls below the age of 18 are regarded as children.

He said there are a lot of health issues involved physically, psychologically and mentally, for girls who get married young, and subsequently become pregnant.

Dr Thiyagar, who is also the Malaysian Association for Adolescent Health vice-president, said when a young teenager, or a child gets pregnant, there is a higher risk of complication in pregnancy.

He said young mothers are often not physically, and mentally capable of bearing children.

According to Dr Thiyagar, World Health Organisation statistics show that girls who give birth before the age of 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than girls who are in their 20s.

“Besides this, the babies of young mothers also might have major complications, such as pre-mature delivery.

“Another concern is the social impact of the young mothers who are forced to stop schooling,” he said when contacted recently.

He was asked to comment on PAS MP Nik Mazian Nik Mohamad’s suggestion in Parliament recently that child marriages should be allowed as children below the age of 16 already have sexual urges.

Nik Mazian had said if they are prevented from marrying (young), youngster will engage in pre-marital sex.

Dr Thiyagar, who specialises in adolescent medicine, said a total of 13,800 pregnancies involving children and teenagers aged between 10 and 19 were reported in Malaysia last year alone.

He said the figures provided by the Health Ministry were revealed during the 12th National Symposium for Adolescent Health held in Johor, earlier this month.

He said, according to the data, a total of 9,800 of the girls were married, while the rest were unmarried girls who became pregnant.

The data also showed that 72% of the pregnant mothers opted out of school.

Dr Thiyagar said under civil law, having sex with someone below 16 constitutes statutory rape.

In Malaysia, the legal minimum marriage age is 18 for non-Muslims and 16 for Muslims.

He said, although major religions do not promote child marriages, under certain circumstances some child marriages are allowed.

Dr Thiyagar said in Malaysia, usually child marriages occur as parents may consent to it to avoid the shame associated with premarital sex or pregnancies out of wedlock.

But he feels that parents must be made aware of the problems that may occur from letting their daughters below the age of 18 get married.

“They are not prepared to carry out their duties as a wife or a mother, as they are denied the appropriate childhood and adolescence, and this causes suffering in psychological well-being and empowerment.

“They are too young to make decisions, and along the way they are exploited because major decisions are usually made by their husbands, and other family members,” he added.

He said therefore the Malaysian Paediatric Association emphasises teaching girls how to be safe, respecting their bodies, and how to get the opposite sex to respect them as a person.

“It is also important for sexual reproductive health lessons to be taught in schools as a subject by itself.

“There is also a need for the family institution to be strengthened so that young people are able to talk with family members about sex, which often the topic is a taboo.

“It is better for them to get the best knowledge from their family members instead of getting incorrect information through the media, Internet or friends,” he added.

Dr Thiyagar said religious education is also very important.

Consultant Paediatrician and Paediatric Neurologist Dr Alex Khoo Peng Chuan said no paediatrician would support child marriage as it is against the rights of the child.

Dr Khoo said children are still dependent on others as they are unable to look after themselves physically, economically or academically.

He said, medically it is not safe for a child to look after themself, or a family, and to have sexual intercourse at a young age brings about mental and physical consequences.

“The implications of child marriages essentially means an end of childhood, as the girls stop being somebody’s daughter, and automatically becomes a wife.

“Her personal development, and independence is curtailed, and they are also at a greater risk of experiencing complications in pregnancy, and child birth.

“Child marriages also deprive young girls from having higher education which would enable them to do better in life,” he added.

Dr Khoo said allowing young girls to get married provides a form of protection to those who prey on vulnerable girls.

He said, because of social disadvantages, lack of education, and poor parental support, some girls may be forced into marriage.

“The age difference becomes one of the concerns as a lot of the husbands may actually have paedophilic tendencies,” he added.

He said child marriages reinforce gender inequality, and poverty, as married girls often leave school, which can have an impact on the socio-economic development of the country

“We need to promote empowerment for the development of all children into healthy adults,” Dr Khoo said, adding that worldwide statistics show that 700 million women were married before their 18th birthday.

This, he said, was 10% of the world population.

The United Nations Children’s Fund has estimated an additional 1.2 billion girls will be a child bride by the year 2050.

Some child brides he said are only eight or nine years old, and that 90% of adolescent pregnancies take place within marriage.

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