Criminalizing Child Marriage

I had my speaking test yesterday for English subject, and since we were free to talk on any topic which seems persuasive, I opted for the topic ‘Criminalizing Child Marriage’. Since this speech was meant for English subject, I did not include that much relevant and serious facts because that’s not what my lecturer aimed for. I wrote this draft previously, so I feel like sharing my simple piece of thoughts in here. Note that this is only a draft okay!

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Good evening. Ladies, I know how anticipated we are when it comes to marriage talk. Imagining the dangling daises, demure dresses, fresh flowers and of course the too-handsome-to-mention prince charming, enough to make our imaginations go wild! But let me take you to another dimension where marriage sounds creepier, eerier, and spookier than what you’d ever think of! Child marriage. Did you know that 14.2 million girls annually get married, equivalent to 39 000 girls daily? Did you know that 1 out of 3 girls below 18 years old are forced to get married, internationally? Well, smirk not, for this is the statistics provided by UNICEF itself and it is on international consensus recognized by CEDAW that the world shall fight against child marriage because it is identified as one of strongest root for violation against women. That is why ladies and gentlemen, for I care about the women’s right, I am here to suggest a move for us to criminalize child marriage.

Child marriage, is defined by United Nation Children’s Fund (UNICEF) as a formal marriage or informal union before age 18 amongst both boys and girls, although girls are disproportionately the most affected. My first reason to criminalize this kind of marriage is due to health concern. The majority of young brides have limited access to contraception and reproductive health services and information. They are exposed to early and frequent sexual relations and to repeated pregnancies and childbirth before they are physically mature and psychologically ready. Well, just imagine a petite 15 years old girl unknowingly carrying a huge belly here and there, while child at her age is supposed to learn Biology happily at school? This unhealthy cohabitation increases the risk for the girls to get affected by sexual transmitted disease such AIDS, HPV, herpes and whatnot. Furthermore, these girls are also at the chance to get pregnant at such a young age. Pregnancy is a beautiful phase, of course. But in this case, it is not. WHO has made it clear that pregnancy related deaths are the leading cause of mortality in 15-19 year old girls, and girls age 15 years or under are five times more likely to die than those over 20. If that seems unlikely enough, consider another dimension where the young momma is not in favor of carrying a fetus at such a young age, then abortion is her only alternative. Obstetric fistula is one of the most devastating consequences, affecting over two million girls and young women. Afterall, health issue is not something to compromise with and criminalizing child marriage has the potential to make a change.

Secondly, child marriage is an obvious violation towards one’s education and social right. Opposing the thought domestically would be easy, but a second thought is possible with a flip of a coin when the view is within the international scope. In Malaysia, child marriage is not really a major issue since we already have specific legislations pertaining to the matter and considering the fact that nations are more civilized. Nonetheless, in other places of the world like Haiti, Bangladesh, Somalia, South Africa, Nigeria and few other countries especially the ones with low GDP level, this problem is quite severe. Girls are either seen as an economic burden or valued as capital for their exchange value in terms of goods, money or livestock. Hence, they were forced to get married at such a young age, with the parents’ eyes cautiously aware of the floodgates of setbacks coming up in the near future. These girls’ right to receive education is denied, when education is regarded as the best tool to serve for a better future. Their whole life is concentrated on serving the man who they are married with, without a chance to see the world in a brighter context. Next come the question, how on Earth can we say their social right is being violated? In this case, child brides are often more likely to experience domestic violence and less likely to take action against this abuse. Girls who marry early are also more likely to believe that a man is justified in beating his wife, for this is the traditional doctrine they have been invoked upon. However, despite its fringe consequences, the tradition has been jingling in most distinguished pocket ever since. So, when the world is serious about pushing up women’s status, breaking up the glass ceiling phenomenon, how do we expect these blockages won’t affect a thing?

So, how do I propose the way to criminalize child marriage? Well, since the matter is a world-wide concern, the initial step must be taken by the United Nation. A treaty must be drafted and later on rectified by the members of United Nation. When it is brought up in the national level, the country could adjust the crystallized legislation in accordance to their local circumstances and norms so that it will suited accordingly, without any trouble that the matter is standardized and whatnot. Taking the law pertaining to statutory rape in Malaysia for example, in Section 375 of the Penal Code, statutory rape is treated as a crime regardless of the consent obtained by both parties. Similarly, when it comes to child marriage, albeit the fact that the underage child consented to the marriage, the parents will still be liable for trading their child’s future since the law treated child marriage as a crime. So, including an additional provision inside the section is the best example on how we can make this suggestion possible.

Concisely, we have always been shouting piercingly on the importance to protect the rights of the weak, abused ones but very rarely that we portray our bravery into actions. Henceforth, criminalizing child marriage is the loudest moral message reflecting our seriousness in protecting the right of these weak, abused flocks. I am afraid that if we did not perform this drastic and radical action, there will be more innocent individual living in suffer just because the current us are too weak and coward to make a drastic move. May someday in the future, these underage generations enjoy a better, secured living and definitely will be thanking us for the veracious decision we made today. With that, thank you. 
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