Child marriage is something found in all communities in Malaysia; it is also to be found in the Rohingya refugee community here.
Our community documentation on Child Marriage in the Rohingya Community in Penang sets out the many factors and issues related to child marriage.
It also sets out what is needed to tackle the issue, at both national and community level.
We have been very active on this issue for the last six years. Initially training three teams of refugees - women, men and religious leaders - in partnership with PS The Children, we then have been supported by the Canadian Fund for Local Initiatives (through the Canadian High Commission) to develop the community-based work and outreach.
The initiatives follow one part of the methodology suggested in our Report, which is to work quietly with different groups in the community, to raise awareness about the issues related to child marriage and go through the reasons why people may choose to marry young or marry their daughters young. Of course the idea is to change attitudes and work towards the eradication of the practice (which, to repeat, is not only an issue for the refugee community in Malaysia).
So the women's team (all refugees) have been very active in arranging a number of sharings and talks with other women and youth in their local communities, as well as taking the messages to teachers in learning centres providing education for refugees. The men's group has held a number of community discussions and the religious leaders are also active in attempting to persuade their colleagues not to authorise a child marriage.
Meanwhile a Malaysian government National Strategy to Address the Factors relating to Underage Marriage was launched late in 2019 but sadly disappeared from view following a collapse/change in government and in personnel at the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development. Now with a revived PKR-led coalition government, working towards resurrecting such a national strategy will be crucial in helping eradicate child marriage, not least the enforcement of a minimum age of marriage at 18 years old. We will continue to support these wider efforts too.
Recent discussions generated from the work of our women, youth and men's teams have also highlighted the link between child marriage and human trafficking and smuggling. This is linked to initiatives supported by the Global Initiatives Resilience Fund. The difficulty of combatting huge, well-organised and well-financed criminal syndicates working across borders is of course a huge challenge for all of us. For the refugee teams in Penang, feeding in experience and ideas into wider forums is critical for people to understand the realities on the ground. And again, the teams have devised appropriate community-based initiatives which mainly aim at disseminating key information and messaging that may help change attitudes and behaviours, and allow people to seek help where possible.
Slowly but surely........