KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) The public marriage celebration in Malaysia between a 14-year-old girl and a 23-year-old teacher has triggered a call for a fresh debate on child marriage.
On Saturday, schoolgirl Siti Maryam Mahood and Abdul Manan Othman celebrated their marriage at a mosque in the capital Kuala Lumpur, after a religious Sharia court approved the union.
"It has been hard trying to juggle two roles -- as a student and a wife -- but I am taking it in my stride," Siti Maryam was quoted as saying by the New Sunday Times newspaper.
"My husband is a teacher at a primary school and he is a family friend," she said according to the daily which said the girls' parents matchmade the couple and that the Sharia court granted them permission to marry in July.
Ivy Josiah, executive director of leading activist group Women's Aid Organisation, said that laws which allow underage marriage in certain cases must be dumped by Malaysia, a conservative and mainly Muslim country.
"I certainly hope this will spark a fresh round of open debate. There should not be any roadblocks... that it involves culture and religion and hence we cannot talk about it," she told AFP.
Josiah has previously said that "child marriage amounts to paedophilia".
Muslims below 16 who want to get married must obtain the permission of the religious courts. Those of other religions aged below 17 must have the consent of civil authorities.
"We need to remedy the! flaws i n the law. There are exceptions in the law. These exceptions should be removed. The government can no longer turn a blind eye," Josiah said.
"The government should set the minimum marriage age of 18 for all races -- boys and girls since the Child Act recognises a child as anyone below 18," she said. "We need to protect the child."
In Malaysia, Muslims make up about 60 per cent of the 28 million population. For certain issues including family law they are subject to Sharia which operates in parallel with the civil legal system.
Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, the minister for women, family and community development, said in July that underage marriage was "morally and socially unacceptable".
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