PETALING JAYA: Forty-one programmes out of the 58 set under the National Strategic Plan in Handling the Causes of Child Marriage has commenced.

Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Rina Harun (pic) said the steering committee to monitor the implementation of the plan reported that another 17 more of these programmes should take off soon.

“The committee has held two meetings to monitor and report on the implementation of the plan,” she told The Star recently when providing an update on the plan with seven objectives, 17 strategies, as well as the 58 programmes and actions to address child marriages.

Rina added that the government was taking a comprehensive approach that included not only improving legislation, but also taking into account education, social networks, poverty eradication and support systems in dealing with the causes leading to child marriages at the grassroots level.

Among the current achievements under the plan included examining the gaps in the Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) education curriculum, providing health education materials suitable for teenagers in the form of infographics for digital media channels, and extending SRH education to students through programmes in schools.

Other successful efforts include the training on SRH education for institution principals, staff, multi-disciplinary members, school teachers, school counsellors, nursery/kindergarten teachers and nursery carers, providing support for children at risk of dropping out, as well as providing statistics on child marriage for both Muslims and non-Muslims.

In addressing poverty and helping to increase income, entrepreneurship as well as technical and vocational education & training programmes are carried out with various agencies such as Youth and Sports Ministry and the Rural Development Ministry.

Under the Youth and Sports Skills Training Institute (ILKBS), 6,567 (85%) out of 7,756 students enrolled from January to June 2022 are under the B40 category.

From 2020 until 2021, the Mybizhub@ILKBS programme has also successfully trained a total of 156 B40 youth in entrepreneurship and business.

As a whole, Rina said the implementation of the plan would require a holistic approach not only through legislative changes, but through education, advocacy, health, strengthening family institutions and also community socioeconomic support.

This also included programmes that aimed to raise awareness and change cultural stigmas and societal norms, she added.

“Since Malaysia is made up of a multi-racial society with different customs, cultures and religions, consultations and engagement with child experts, cultural and syariah experts should also be carried out continuously and in stages to ensure that the views from all parties will be taken into account in setting the minimum age of marriage at 18 years,” she said.

“Efforts to coordinate legislation related to the setting of the (minimum) age of marriage at 18 is a long-term strategy under the plan.

“Therefore, close cooperation between the Malaysian Islamic Development Department, the Malaysian Syariah Justice Department (JKSM) and state governments is needed to provide a support system in terms of legislation since (minimum age of marriage for Muslims) is under state jurisdiction,” she added.

Rina also said the ministry appreciated the efforts by JKSM for having prepared a standard operating procedure for Underage Marriage Applications, which is seen as a constructive step to further tighten the approval of such marriages.

Under this SOP, syariah judges will examine reports from the Social Welfare Department along with health and police reports.

“Every aspect needs to be taken into account, including background, income, ability and education, to ensure the welfare of the child is maintained in the event of marriage.“(As) the protection of children is a shared responsibility, continuous commitment from all parties is needed to ensure the implementation of these programmes,” she said.There are 61 agencies involved in a variety of short-, medium- and long-term programmes involving the federal and state governments, non-governmental organisations and international organisations, between 2020 and 2025.

The six main causes of child marriage identified under the plan were poverty, lack of access to sexual and reproductive health education, inadequate parenting skills, social norms that consider marriage as the best solution, relaxed laws for marriage for those below 18, lack of coordination on underage marriage and the ensuing data on the dissolution of such marriages, and the lack of access to education and poor school attendance.

The number of child marriages recorded in Malaysia from 2016 to 2020 is on a downward trend, with 2,288 cases recorded in 2016, 2,107 in 2017, 1,856 in 2018, 1,466 in 2019 and 1,123 in 2020.