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What is driving child marriages in Malaysia?

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OVER the last week, the story of a 41-year old man who married an 11-year old girl as his third wife has hogged the headlines in Malaysia. The incident put the spotlight on the incidence of child marriage in Malaysia.

Child marriage is defined by the United Nations as a formal marriage or informal union before age 18, and is a practice widespread in developing and lower-income countries. Child marriage affects both boys and girls, though girls are disproportionately the most affected.

Child marriage, more often than not, leads to a lifetime of disadvantage and deprivation. The Convention of the Rights of the Child defines any person below the age of 18 as a child, and by Malaysian law, the age of majority is attained also at 18.

Global advocates often highlight that the term early marriage is a better term because, in many societies that do practise child marriage, once a girl attains puberty, she is no longer considered a ‘child’ per se, but rather a ‘woman’ despite her age.

The most common drivers of early marriage are poverty and a lack of access to education and employment opportunities. However, in a country like Malaysia, where access to education is heavily subsidised, we also need to consider other drivers as key.

SEE ALSO: Malaysia has a child marriage problem – It’s time to act

Without doubt, in this particular case, poverty is a key driver. However the additional vulnerabilities and marginalisations that this family faces must also be taken into consideration.

That they are migrant workers from a neighbouring country, in which access to health and education which is subsidised is usually denied to them.

They work as rubber tappers in a farm, or a plantation, which is a hard-to-reach, even isolating community with its own rigid hierarchies and limitations.

The family’s income is derived from selling their rubber to this man in particular, and as such he does hold some form of power over them. Hence they fall below........

© Asian Correspondent