What were you doing at the tender age of 11? Hanging out with your peers and wondering when your next meal is going to be? Well, most of us have experienced the intricacies of childhood but Masaryu Mat Rashid faced a different fate. She had to marry a 41-year-old Kelantanese man as his third wife in June 2018 and this had caused an uproar among fellow Malaysians.Till now, parties like Wanita Malaysian Chinese Association and Lawyers for Liberty executive director Latheefa Koya continued to question Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail’s handling of the child marriage case.
Diagram 1.0: Statistical Infographic of Child Marriages in Malaysia
Statistics have shown that over 700 million women in the current era are married before reaching the legal age of 18. Child marriage is rooted in gender inequality and the belief that girls and women are somehow inferior to boys and men. In addition, it is also regarded as a violation of human rights and is restricted by an array of international conventions. Child marriage is a complex issue which covers a diversity of factors which can vary based on the culture and personalized behaviour of a specific community or region. On top of that, child marriage in Malaysia is perpetuated by the fear of shame due to sexual impropriety and legal loopholes, according to a national report by Sisters in Islam (SIS) and Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW).
Table 1.0: Comparison of the Legal Minimum Age of Marriage under Respective Legal Systems in Malaysia
As shown in the table above, the bottom line of the legal loophole is the absence of strict minimum age for Muslim marriages under the respective legal systems in Malaysia. Nevertheless, people are not paying sufficient attention to this problem as we fail to acknowledge its direct impact on our lives as long as those near and dear are not victims. Most of us fail to comprehend the rippling economic impacts of child marriage. The World Bank’s study finds that child marriage could cost developing countries trillions of dollars by 2030.
The largest economic cost related to child marriage is due to its impact on fertility and population growth. Among the nations considered in the Economic Impacts of Child Marriage report, the report estimates that a girl marrying at 13 will have on average 26 percent more children over her lifetime than if she had married at 18 or later.
Diagram 3.0: Demographic Dividend Infographic
Demographic dividend is the economic growth that may result from changes to a country’s age structure, due to the shift from short to long life span, and large to small family size. Therefore, less investments are needed to meet the needs of the youngest age groups and resources are freed up for what is called the “economic gift.” This indicates that the labor force is growing more rapidly than the population that is dependent on it, creating a window for faster economic growth and family welfare. On the contrary, child marriage delays the demographic dividend that can come from reduced fertility and investments in education as it contributes to larger families and, in turn, population growth. Thus, ending child marriage would reduce total fertility rates by 11 percent on average in those countries, leading to substantial reductions in population growth over time. The analysis done by ICRW also suggests that by 2030, gains in annual welfare from lower population growth could reach more than $500 billion annually.
Can poverty be correlated to the aggregate health of the economy? Of course, it can! When an economy begins to grow, the opportunities for employment increase along with a hike in income. Therefore, when you combine strong labour markets and spurting income levels, it will produce a positive effect on families that are living in poverty as this enables them to move beyond the poverty threshold.
In terms of child marriage, girls commonly get married as a result of pressure from their parents and relatives, poverty and insufficient alternatives to turn to. In certain situations, families’ in specific regions possess a mentality that it is far more rewarding to educate boys rather than girls, accompanied by limited job opportunities and access to quality education. For instance, a Ugandan parent states that there is no availability of vocational institutions within their regional vicinity that will opt to train girls after they have completed their primary and lower secondary education. The impact of child marriage can be detrimental for child brides as the loss of education leads to lower literacy rates and earnings opportunities.
Diagram 3.1: Child Marriage Infographic
Child marriage tends to dampen the efforts to end poverty and achieve sustainable economic growth and equity. From an economic standpoint, the total economic costs of child marriage is dangerously high. For instance, early childbearing has the potential to increase fertility rates and the aggregate population growth by one tenth in high prevalence countries. Moreover, the most significant downfall of child marriage is that the rate of expected earnings by women in the labour market will slip. As a result of the increasing cases of child marriages, women who get married as children based on a sample of 15 countries on average are expected to have earnings that are 9% lower when compared to women who had been married later on in life.
Education is a crucial component towards a developing economy. A country’s economic health becomes more productive as a result of the increase of educated workers since they can carry out tasks more efficiently that requires literacy (education).
The likelihood for girls to complete their secondary education is reduced when they become child brides. The graph below displays that on average girls who get married before the age of 18 only get to complete a maximum of three years of schooling. For instance, a set of surveys were carried out to parents, asking them the primary reason as to why their daughters had dropped out of school, the main reason being marriage. The impact of not completing their secondary education can lead to lower earnings for them when they reach adulthood due to their lack of provision of education which prevents them from getting good jobs.
Well-being of the Mother and Her Children
Child brides are neither physically or emotionally ready to become wives and mothers, and they tend to experience poorer mental health compared to their peers who married later. International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) carried out a study to assess the mental health of women who married before the age of 18. The well-being was assessed using the Psychological General Well-being Index (PGWBI), a widely-used scale that measures the psychological quality of life of general populations as well as people with chronic diseases. The overall measure is scored on a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 being the highest possible state of well-being. The study shows that women in Ethiopia who married at age 12 or earlier scored an average of five points lower on the PGWBI, compared to women that married later, while women in Niger scored an average of more than seven points lower. This suggests a negative association between child marriage and mental health outcomes.
Furthermore, a mother’s ill-being would affect mother-child bonding, and parenting quality, which in turn negatively influences children’s development. Besides, the children born to mothers under 18 has higher infant and child malnutrition, compared to those born to women married as adults. The annual estimated economic benefits of ending under-five mortality and stunting would be close to US$98 billion annually by 2030. Ending child marriage would have a positive impact on reducing early childbirth and improving child’s development.
Although child marriage is a controversial issue, any sane man should do his best to end this practice as it is morally right and economically beneficial. It is disappointing to see religion become a hindrance due to archaic interpretation, instead of freeing people from their burden. Thus, the respective government should enact legal reform to ban this horrible practice completely. The minimum age of marriage must be raised to 18 for both genders, with no exceptions and the criminalisation of child marriage should be looked into as part of legal reform. Our children deserve to explore their lives without being imprisoned by marriage at such a tender age – they are our future.
- Raj, A., Saggurti, N., Winter, M., Labonte, A., Decker, M., Balaiah, D. and Silverman, J. (2010). The effect of maternal child marriage on morbidity and mortality of children under 5 in India: cross sectional study of a nationally representative sample. BMJ, 340(jan21 1), pp.b4258-b4258.
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Researcher – Yashvanth Sivaruban, Tan Shan Yi
Editor – Saras Rehathi