Is marriage a practice of religion or a manifestation of love?

(first published by The Malaysian Insider on December 09, 2010)

DEC 9 — Love. Why would I even use that word? To me, it sounds clichéd and too good to be true. However, recently, the country was awakened by the much-publicised mass wedding that included the marriage between a 14-year-old Muslim girl with her spouse, a 23-year-old teacher. And this was done in a ceremony officiated by a minister who condoned the act. After all, the marriage was given permission by the syariah court.

Like any other “older”, independent, single Muslim woman, I was utterly shocked. There I was thinking how absurd weddings are: the cost of one, the financial commitments that come with the marriage and witnessing one too many divorces happening between young couples, and then coming across the article of the happily-married young girl who said she will continue her studies while married.

The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) stated in its report that child marriages have quite severe physical, social and psychological consequences such as “Young girls who get married will most likely be forced into having sexual intercourse with their usually much older, husbands. This has severe negative health consequences as the girl is often not psychologically, physically and sexually mature. Child brides are likely to become pregnant at an early age and there is a strong correlation between the age of a mother and maternal mortality and morbidity. Girls aged l0-14 are five times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than women aged 20-24 and girls aged 15-19 are twice as likely to die.” I can’t imagine my child, or younger sister, being forced to be intimate with a man who claims to be her husband. I don’t think a child that young would want to voluntarily have sexual intercourse.

And it’s not just about that, although suffice to say that is one of the significant functions of a wife to her husband, referred to “nafkah batin”. How will this young one live? How does one even comprehend a 14-year-old girl relying on birth-control pills, having to skip all the enjoyment of childhood and teenage years, and then coming home to cook and clean for her husband?

I did engage in a conversation with some people who thought otherwise. A senior member of the family discussed the circumstances which he was once faced. A relative of his, a younger girl who ran away from home at the age of 14, was convinced to get married at the age of 16 because her blind father and her homemaker mother were not able to control her wild lifestyle. Fortunately, she found a man who was responsible and they are still happily married. These people had to make these choices because of their life circumstances. But that happened in the ‘80s. Another person mentioned about how a girl can physically and mentally be matured at that age, and this was based on a marriage of a nine-year-old girl in Thailand who voluntarily married young.

As much as I respect their opinions, I do believe if people do not think this is a bad thing, then it will keep on recurring. My personal argument is that, it is not fair for anyone to take the rights of a child so willingly like that in the name of “love”. A few weeks back I read in an article that a divorce happens in every five marriages. If we’re going to use the name of religion, we should all know clearly that God hates divorces. So, why would we throw people who can’t even fend for themselves in such situations? Freedom to marry is each individual’s right, but our Constitution states that even in choosing your own religion, you should be 18 years and above. So, how is it possible to marry under the name of religion when you’re so young?

If we have girls with wild lifestyles, we can give them a chance to change in rehabilitation centres. Another recent article mentioned marriage is not an excuse to legalise sex. The people who condoned these acts should ask themselves: would they bear seeing their children or younger sisters at that age married and living with those commitments, obligations and responsibilities?

I do hope people question all these and discuss openly. The problem with our culture is that it’s always about “saving face”. What’s left of our dignity if we keep on ripping the rights of others? I know what’s done is done, but I wish the little girl all the luck in the world in her marriage because this decision is clearly not hers to even begin with.

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