08/06/2010, 00.00
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Malacca, marriage for girls under 16 to cover underage pregnancies

The government wants to avoid the increasing abandonment of infants and help many pregnant minors. But it has stirred controversy, for fear that it opens the door to the phenomenon of child-brides.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The state of Malacca in Southern Malaysia, has allowed  the marriage of girls under 16 and also for boys under 18. The decision of the Malacca Islamic Religious Council, announced on August 3, has aroused great controversy in the Muslim country.

Strict Islamic law forbids premarital sex. But in the country underage unmarried pregnancies are increasing: the authorities of Malacca alone recorded 174 children born outside marriage by 2010, of which 14 are girls under 16 years of age and 60 girls between 16 and 20. They also found three abandoned babies and it is feared that this phenomenon is much more widespread, with many girls induced by the family to carry out abortions. UN data from 2006 show 12 births out of wedlock in every 1000, compared to 52 in 1000 of nearby Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country.

The Council has decided that even under the legal age for  marriage, 16 for girls and 18 for boys, authorization can be requested from the authorities who will decide on a “case by case ", basis explained Minister of the Department Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom.

Mohammad Ali Rustam, Chief Minister of Malacca, considered it "the best way to tackle the problem of abandoned babies and pregnancies outside marriage." The government also plans to give to young couples who marry an economic aid of 500 ringgit (about 125 euros).

But controversy has exploded across the country and many critics argue that the problem can not be  solved by legalization, but appropriate solutions are needed. Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, Minister for Women, described the decision as "morally and socially not acceptable."

Ivy Josiah, executive director of the Aid for Women Organization, a pro-human rights group, spoke of it as "an outrage. It 'a return to the past, although there is ample evidence that we should not allow child marriages. " "This policy should be decided by the Federal Minister for Women, Education and Health, not religious authorities of a State."

The concern is that this particular exemption will be used to coerce the girls into marriages with older men, a common practice in some Islamic countries, where there is wide controversy over so-called child brides.

The proposal to establish an Islamic school for girls pregnant outside marriage in Malacca is also being criticised, seen as a way of ghettoising the young girls from other young people. To prevent the increasing abandonment of infants, the central government has already established a centre where mothers can give birth to children and remain anonymous.

Muslims are about 60% of the 28 million Malaysians and are subject to Islamic laws, which may be modified by each of the 13 states in the country. Non-Muslims are subject to federal laws, as decided by the central government.

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