So, Are We Getting Serious? (TN50)

by Tan Kian Leong

This article has previously been published on the UNAM Youth blog and The Malaysian Outsider site and has been reproduced here with the author’s permission.

If TN50 really intends to shape the future of Malaysia by turning our aspirations into public policy, it can start by acknowledging that we want a fair and equal Malaysia for all.

In his recent book ‘Thank You For Being Late’, author Thomas Friedman alludes to two eternal truths in the U.S. political arena, which are relevant the world over. “The Democratic Party,” writes Friedman, “understands that culture shapes politics…[A]nd the Republican Party understands that politics shapes culture.”

With the Transformasi Nasional 2050 initiative, the Malaysian government appears set on drawing up a roadmap for the 30-year gap in between Wawasan 2020 and 2050, and they have made a commendable effort in reaching out to the public to gather grassroots sentiments. In the years to come, we can likely expect the public policies drafted to reflect the various concerns and hopes we have voiced out – but are the aspirations being heard truly representative of everybody?

Same Old

One year on from the release of the 2016 COMANGO Universal Period Review Mid-Term Review, civil rights progress has waxed and waned in timid steps. Together, we applauded as investigative journalism, first by The Malay Mail and then by the Star’s R.AGE team, successfully led to the tabling and passing of the Sexual Offences Against Children Bill 2017, drawing together lawmakers from across the political divide in a rare show of bipartisan unity.

We criminalised sexual offences, but we didn’t criminalise child marriage.

In a formidable break with the ASEAN principle of non-interference, Prime Minister Najib Razak (rightfully) criticised the government of Myanmar for their persecution of Rohingya Muslims under the pretext of civil unrest, as they were hounded from their villages and the international community watched on.

A little over 4 months on, an expose by the Guardian highlighted the dismal conditions of refugee camps in Malaysia – camps where Rohingya Muslims were housed.

There are, of course, many other stories of mistreatment – whether of the LGBT community, or of stateless persons, and others. For people such as these, it is unlikely that their aspirations will ever be recorded in a townhall session with a minister; they may never have the chances that we do to voice out our hopes and dreams in public forums. It stands to reason, then, that we who have the opportunities to do so must speak out on behalf of them.

Can We Get a Roadmap, Please?

I recently had the privilege of attending a TN50xSDG conference at a local private university, along with some 300 other young Malaysian adults who wished to offer input on the nation’s future. Some of the questions voiced reflected the cosmopolitanism that has been bred into those of us who are fortunate – hard questions about affirmative action policies and the NEP, and on the stigma surrounding mental health, to name just a few. Through it all, there was an attempt to tie in achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as part and parcel of our TN50 roadmap, and how they were in some ways one and the same.

While it is certainly heartening that the new generation appears to have no qualms addressing the elephant(s) in the room, there is also the need for metrics to measure our successes by. Young adults genuinely concerned about our nation’s future can take heed, then: there are some ways in which we can influence the direction we are heading towards – even before 2050.

If we are serious about a more equal Malaysia 33 years from now, we can begin by pushing for our government to ratify and accede to the various conventions for civil rights as adopted by the many member states of the United Nations. In doing so, we will adopt the international standards of human rights that countries around the world follow – in theory, if not so much in practice.

Adopting these conventions (such as the 1951 Refugee Convention to safeguard the rights of refugees) will naturally ensure that our national laws be brought into accordance with these obligations and rules; alternatively, even if we do not choose to ratify them, we as concerned citizens can still pressure our lawmakers and representatives to in the very least attempt to align our laws with these international standards – and enforce them accordingly.

The Business of Nation-Building

Ultimately, however, the changes enshrined here will only be the product of a concerted and prolonged push by Malaysians who truly wish to see a different country come 2050. Through TN50, we have been given a chance to voice our hopes, dreams, and aspirations – and to hold the government accountable when the policies offered do not fully deliver on those things. Our sustained pressure on lawmakers as a generation of young leaders holds much promise: but only if we choose to get into – as a friend once put it – the business of nation-building.

We stand at a crossroads: our culture is to shape our politics for the next 33 years, and the politics of our nation will shape our culture for the foreseeable future. Are we prepared to demand a future that we know we can all be proud of, or are we satisfied with the mumbled, generic answer we will give about a “brighter, happier” future when we step up to speak into the microphone?

I don’t know about you, but I know where I’m heading from the crossroads. The only question is: are you coming too?

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Currently studying A-Levels at Taylor’s College Subang Jaya, Kian Leong hopes to be able to read Law in the future. Passionate about civil rights and nation-building, he is also active in the local Model United Nations circuit, and is a United Nations Association of Malaysia Youth Committee member.
ASASIkini tries its best to share reliable content from third parties without prejudice and with a firm belief in freedom of expression. All articles are strictly the writer’s personal opinion and ASASIkini, and KPUM, does not necessarily endorse the views or opinions given by the writers.

Here comes the (child) bride

Photo taken from http://ewn.co.za/2017/02/15/sold-into-marriage-how-rohingya-girls-become-child-brides-in-malaysia, credit AFP

by Janice Ooi

When I was 9 years old, I was moaning the first tuition class my parents had sent me. It was the first year I had BM Penulisan (Writing) and being a person who stepped into primary school knowing only one word (‘bola’) in BM (because it is similar to its English counterpart, ball), I was obviously anxious and requested my parents to send me to tuition class – only to find out that tuition is immensely boring, as any 9-year-old would.

But if you were to ask my 9-year-old self, or any other 9-year-old girl, I don’t think she would say that she is “physically and spiritually ready” for marriage – I was barely ready for my BM Penulisan test in June. Perhaps some young girls might enthusiastically say yes to marriage – heads full of fantasies created by Disney Princesses and their happily-ever-after lives. But we can’t take those “yes” statements seriously – because we, as adults, understand that they do not come from complete understanding of what marriage truly entails. These ‘sweetheart’ cases often end in divorce, or severe hardship due to the many lacking circumstances young brides face – such as lack of education, poverty, the physical burden marriage places on her tiny frame whether from the sexual activities expected or household work to be done.

Sexual Offences Against Children 2017 and the proposed amendment on child marriages ban

Last April, just two months ago, the Sexual Offences Against Children bill was passed in Parliament – which included important provisions on child pornography and sexual grooming. However, a proposed amendment by MP Teo Nie Ching on banning child marriages was defeated – the debate in which produced controversial remarks by MP Datuk Shabudin Yahaya. He emphasised that rapists don’t always remain as bad people and the girls who were raped may have a better, healthier future if she gets married to their rapists because “at least they would have their husbands”, and this would further serve to “remedy” other “social problems” – which were never identified. Indeed, it is “dangerously misogynistic and perverse to make a rapist seem like a hero, painting a picture as if he had ‘manned up’ to his act” after taking a conscious step to ruin a young girl’s life.

By defeating the proposed amendment to ban child marriages, the Malaysian Parliament seems to be confused on their stance regarding what exactly is to be called as “sexual offences against children” – because surely, allowing rapists to marry their traumatised victims as a way to avoid punishment must be an “offence”, if not to the law, then to our basic humanity. If sexual intercourse with a child is statutory rape, how can the existence of the rape offence retroactively vanish by a vow of marriage? Marriage, for the victim, merely translates to a daily re-enactment of the nightmare with her attacker.

The state of the law in Malaysia

In Malaysia, marital rape is not an offencea situation that has long called for reform. It is through this loophole that child rapists are able to avoid punishment. Since most child marriages occur in rural and traditional communities, the parents’ poverty and/or conservative mindset which believes that sex out of wedlock brings shame to the family and thus their daughter is of no value since she has been “soiled” by the very evil man who is apparently extending a generous arm in “taking responsibility” for his actions, often compels them to hurriedly marry their daughter off the offender. The power to nullify such an atrocious act is not one the law should have, less still desperate parents who do not know any better.

The conditions to marry are different for non-Muslims and for Muslims. The legal age to marry for non-Muslims is 18, requiring parental consent for those below 21 years of age – with an exception for girls who are 16 years old and have obtained the state’s chief minister’s authority to get married. For Muslims, the legal age for marriage is 18 for males and 16 for females, however those below the legal age can still get married – with no apparent minimum age for marriage – as long as they have obtained the consent of a Shariah court, in which the Shariah court maintains wide discretionary powers to consider all relevant factors such as levels of maturity of the applicants and merits of the marriage. While the consent of the Shariah court may be a good counterbalance to mitigate widespread occurrences of child marriages, one truly wonders whether such “wide discretionary powers” are exercised to their fullest extent before allowing a child to marry, considering the fact that there have been instances in which rapists have married their victims.

Child marriages – normal and widespread or exaggerated?

The Joint Action Group for Equality (JAG), citing UN reports, have stated that as many as 15 000 Malaysians are married off before the age of 19. According to a 2000 census, there were 10 267 children between the ages of 10-14 who were married, 304 who were widowed, divorced or permanently separated – with girls outnumbering boys at 58%. Strangely enough, the 2010 census does not show any figures on child marriages, instead recording all children as “never married”. In fact, child marriages do not only occur within the local community, but there have been allegations of child refugees being sold into marriage as child brides in Malaysia.

Around the world, child marriages are allowed in more than 100 countries, including the United States as the exception rather than the norm. However, as social values evolve, should we not strive to emulate the better rather than follow the majority?

Child brides and consequences

There is a reason for the legal age for marriage being set at 18 as the norm – 18 being an acceptable age at which a person would reach both physical and emotional maturity while being able to obtain a means to generate income. Child brides are robbed of their childhood, health, education and dreams. There is a high risk of death during childbirth, premature births and diseases relating to the urinary tracts and reproductive systems for young mothers. Most young brides also come from poor communities, and often would be stuck in poverty for the rest of their lives due to a lack of opportunities to better their lives through education. It has also been shown that child brides have an increased risk of intimate partner sexual violence.

Moving forward

Child marriages are the norm in traditional communities where their perception of life is based on their upbringing and life experiences – and in such an environment, it is difficult for them to empathise with contemporary thought without appropriate knowledge. The key to moving forward is for legislation to recognise that child marriages do not “remedy” social problems, but may in fact create more as children are essentially stuck in abusive relationships or are traumatised by intimacy to such a level that divorce is a permanent state for them. Through the law we can normalise better values for the society, and through it, allow better understanding to bridge the gap between those stuck behind the veils of tradition and contemporary knowledge.

Because when you think of a 9, 10, 11, or 12-year old child, the word “wife” is not the first word you’d associate with her. You think of silly fantasies and giggles and a never-ending ball of energy that keeps running around while playing tag with her friends. A child deserves a childhood, and with that, the opportunity to learn and grow as an individual not defined by an unwanted, unsolicited sexual act. There should not be any exceptions to individual consent in this regard, marriage is a deeply personal and life-changing matter.

Today, the special court for child sex crimes is due to be unveiled. The Sexual Offences against Children Act 2017 has been a positive step forward in recognising atrocities committed against children that goes against their human rights, but in the past, ministers have denounced the Sexual Offences against Children bill as “not the forum to discuss” the issue of child marriages. Here’s to hoping that  an appropriate forum will be created soon. Child marriages may not be the hottest social issue in the media, but it is a serious issue that deeply affects each and every child who is compelled into marriage – regardless by parents, traditional societal norms, or even by deluded fantasies of sweetheart love.

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Janice is a second year law student at UCL.
Both cynical and idealistic, she is one contradiction away from being the living dead (as all law students are).

 

 

ASASIkini tries its best to share reliable content from third parties without prejudice and with a firm belief in freedom of expression. All articles are strictly the writer’s personal opinion and ASASIkini, and KPUM, does not necessarily endorse the views or opinions given by the writers.

The Three Elements of Student Activism

By Balqis Azhar 

On the 15th of April, I was lucky enough to attend a dialogue between participants of the Global Leadership Programme 2 (LEAD 2) and Malaysian students in the UK. As an executive in the United Kingdom and Eire Council for Malaysian Students (UKEC), I felt the responsibility to engage with them and to keep myself in touch with the current on-goings in Malaysia.

Amongst the panel of speakers are Prof Dato’ Sri Zaleha Kamaruddin (IIUM Rector), Tan Sri Aziz Rahman (Co-Chair for LEAD 2) and Dr. Zainal Sanusi (the Director of Education Malaysia).

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Participants of the Global Leadership Programme 2 (LEAD 2).

Student Activism in the UK

When I first came to the UK last September, I was not too aware of the spirit of student activism there and the dynamics of various student movements by Malaysian students in the UK. As a patriotic person who intends to help usher in change to the nation, I signed up for UKEC, an organisation that I knew before coming to London to pursue my undergraduate studies. After my interview during their selection process, I was accepted and called to the office sometime around October. The journey began then and I was exposed to a vast number of Malaysian societies and organisations – each with different aims, purposes, niche targets and objectives. As for UKEC, it stands strong as an umbrella body for Malaysian students in the UK, connecting all these Malaysian societies and organisations under one roof.

Continue reading “The Three Elements of Student Activism”

Child prisoner rights in Palestine

Photo taken from http://www.dci-palestine.org/year_in_review_2016; AFP/Hazem Bader

by Balqis Azhar

I was reading a book entitled ‘Dreaming of Freedom’ which profusely spoke about Palestinian child prisoners. To begin with, I would like to quote a paragraph from an interview of one of the child prisoners who was detained in an Israeli military prison;

“I will never forget the day when forces from the Israeli Prison Service stormed our cell. They turned it upside down and searched every single item. They stole our belongings which we used to entertain ourselves in that horrible prison. They even stole my headphones, which I used to listen to the radio in an attempt to forget my misery.”

The sentence was uttered by Ayman Abbasi, one of the child prisoners detained by Israeli soldiers when he was in his 9th grade. Soon, he was killed by Israeli soldiers during a clash at Ein al Louza.

Continue reading “Child prisoner rights in Palestine”

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