Fatimah answer questions from the media.

KOTA SAMARAHAN: Sarawak has agreed in principle to raise the minimum age of marriage to 18 years, said Minister of Welfare, Community Well Being, Women, Family and Childhood Development Dato Sri Fatimah Abdullah.

She explained, however, that its mode of implementation still needed fine-tuning due to three types of laws for marriages in Sarawak, namely civil, customary and Islamic.

Fatimah also pointed out that in Sarawak, in cases of unplanned pregnancy, permission for under-18 marriages must first be sought from the Chief Minister or Resident empowered by the Chief Minister.

She also stressed that as far as Majlis Adat Istiadat, which handles native law, is concerned, it has agreed on the minimum age being set at 18 but it has not been made official yet.

“Sarawak has 27 ethnic groups and each is different, it's not a blanket (decision). Now the Majlis Adat Istiadat agrees in principle that the minimum age is officially set at 18, and those that have officially agreed are Orang Ulu, Iban and the rest agree in principle," she said when met after the closing of Karnival Orang Kurang Upaya (Kokus) at Unimas yesterday.

For Penans, however, she said it will be difficult to implement as they are a nomadic or semi-nomadic people.

“For Muslims, the minimum age of marriage for males is 18 and females at 16, but this may be changed later as this is the first phase."

Fatimah said for Muslim marriages, those under the age of 16 are not simply allowed to marry as the syarie judge has to make sure that they meet the many requirements which include economic situation and health.

At the moment, she said the ministry via Sarawak Social Council has programmes with communities and schools throughout the state to create awareness and advocacy on the minimum age of marriage and teenage pregnancy.

“We want them to complete minimum basic education, Form 5, and tell them what the disadvantages are – economically, education, health and responsibilities –
and explain so that they understand.

“At the same time, we need to know why underage marriages happen and the factors include dropping out of school at Primary 6 and Form 2, which needs to be addressed."

On Monday, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Dr Mujahid Yusof's announced that the federal government will be introducing a standard operating procedure (SOP) to ensure that guidelines on the minimum legal age for marriage are strictly adhered to nationwide.

He said the module is being prepared and once ready, all states in Malaysia must comply with the SOP.

Last week, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail told Parliament that Sarawak was among seven states in the country that did not agree to raise the minimum marriage age to 18. The other states were Pahang, Terengganu, Perlis, Negeri Sembilan, Kedah and Kelantan.

>Sources: Borneo Post Online