A UN human rights expert has urged Malaysian authorities to redouble their efforts to end child marriages, and to establish a robust non-discriminatory child protection system.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, called on the Government to enter into a dialogue with religious communities and judges who continue to grant exceptions under “certain circumstances” that allow the marriage of children of any age under Sharia law.
“I recognise the complexity of the parallel legal systems in Malaysia, including the differences between laws at Federal and State level,” said the expert, at the end of an eight-day visit to the country. “Child marriage practices in Malaysia are often driven by poverty, patriarchal structures, customs and misconceptions around pre-marital sex.”
“To help a child climb out of poverty, you must educate her, not marry her,” one 15-year-old bride told the Special Rapporteur.
De Boer-Buquicchio said there were encouraging discussions nationally spearheaded by the Deputy Prime Minister to raise the minimum age of marriage for girls and boys and the momentum must be seized to put an end to this harmful practice that affects children irreparably.
The predicament of children from vulnerable backgrounds such as refugees, asylum seekers, stateless and undocumented children was also source of serious concern, she said. Detention of young children at immigration depots together with adults should stop and alternative solutions should be provided immediately, the expert added.
“In the absence of identity documents, children born in Malaysia to irregular and migrant workers have no access to public education, affordable healthcare and other welfare services and are particularly prone to become victims of trafficking for sale and sexual exploitation, child forced labour, including forced begging,” stressed the Special Rapporteur.
The UN expert welcomed current plans of the Government to make birth registration free of charge and accessible for all children born in Malaysia without discrimination.
She also commended the Government for the steps taken to ensure online safety and stop the spreading of child abuse material through the adoption of the Sexual Offences Against Children Act 2017 and setting up of Special Courts for Sexual Crimes Against Children, the first of its kind in Southeast Asia. She looked forward to receiving data on prosecutions and convictions of sexual crimes against children issued by these courts.
The Special Rapporteur also expressed concern about commercial surrogacy and the lack of a regulatory body to oversee the practice.
During her visit to Malaysia, de Boer-Buquicchio had discussions with State officials, at both the Federal and State level, including from Sarawak, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, the Malaysian Bar Council, representatives of civil society and the private sector as well as children.
The Special Rapporteur will present the findings and key recommendations from her visit in a report to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2019.