Is it a great debate or a farce? Is it a major social problem as it has been made out to be? Why has a survey, in which its sample base and methodology have yet to be disclosed, causing so much discomfort to a small percentage of society and yet is made out to be a major national crisis?
Is it such a serious issue to warrant the blocking of a website? Or, is it one of those issues that Malaysians harp on about for a few days only to forget when another issue surfaces?
For the past few days, statements have been made and police reports have been lodged. The only action lacking to make it a comprehensive Malaysian malaise is the gathering of protestors armed with placards and banners.
There has been no dearth of supposed guardians of public scruples making statements and commenting on this moral decadence. This is despite the Higher Education Ministry declaring that the data on the number of young women acting as “sugar babies” was dubious and possibly improbable.
The ministry had contacted several of the universities listed as having a high number of female students registered for sugar baby services – and found that many have expressed doubts about the data published.
It started last week when Sugarbook, the biggest “sugar daddy-sugar baby” dating service in Asia, released a survey which showed that Malaysia is home to 42,500 sugar daddies, earning it the third spot for the highest number of sugar daddies in Asia behind India (338,000) and Indonesia (60,250).
It also revealed that some 12,705 students from 10 institutions of higher learning in the Klang Valley, including two public universities, were currently registered with the platform.
Before these issues are addressed, let me make a confession: I neither condone nor encourage such arrangements between two consenting adults – two wrong people doing the right thing.
But I have to ask: Why hasn’t there been such furore when politicians capture trophy wives; VVIPs walk with nubile young women with arms entwined; when some old men marry child brides; and when adults enter into incestuous relationships?
On how many occasions have you seen standing ovation when a politician enters the ballroom with his new young wife while the older first one is at home looking after kids, some of them who are of marrying age?
Where did all the do-gooders go when marriages were solemnised between grandfathers and girls who had just attained puberty? For the record in December last year, the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry in a written reply told Parliament that 543 child marriages, including applications, were recorded in Malaysia from the first nine months of the year.
This means an average of 60 such marriages were held or applied for every month or three on every working day of the year. These figures are alarming indeed.
But do these statistics not alarm the so-called social activists and campaigners who seem more apt at just making statements and issuing media releases?
According to the Syariah Judiciary Department, from 2013 to June 2019, there were 5,823 Muslim child marriages registered in Malaysia, with Sarawak having the highest number at 974, followed by Sabah with 877, and Kelantan with 848.
Child marriages, when highlighted in the media ignite public interest but then, the religious card is thrown – and everyone including women’s rights campaigners retreats into a cocoon.
In 2016, I wrote: “The marriageable age under Islamic law is 18 for boys and 16 for girls. The Syariah Court holds the authority to give consent to Muslim girls under 16 who wish to get married. They or their parents can apply at any marriage, divorce and reconciliation counter at their state religious departments. So, with one signature, something bad becomes good; something illegal becomes legal. Is this the system we want?
The debate in Parliament at that time was unpalatable but MPs sat numbed – perhaps by fear more than surprise.
Then Pasir Puteh MP Nik Mazian Nik Mohamad argued that banning child marriages may lead to rampant casual sex involving underage girls. He said it will become a major issue because these “girls have a lust for sex”, with no evidence to support his claim.
Not to be outdone, the backbench resisted attempts for a ban on child marriages. Noor Ehsanuddin Mohd Harun Narrashid (Umno-BN at that time) defended child marriages, claiming that the sensitivity for underage marriage should be respected.
So, when everything else fails, there’s always the temptation to take the easy way out – throw in the religious or the race card.
After five years, nothing has been done. In November 2019, then deputy prime minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail told Parliament that the federal government could not enforce a ban on child marriages nationwide as seven states are not cooperating.
“Amending the enactment/legal ordinance on the minimum age for marriages can only happen if the states agreed with the proposed amendments. Only Selangor has amended the enactment while the Federal Territories is in the process of amending it.
“Five other states that have agreed to amend (the law) are Penang, Sabah, Johor, Malacca and Perak. There are still seven states that disagreed with the legal amendment, which are Sarawak, Pahang, Terengganu, Perlis, Negri Sembilan, Kedah and Kelantan,” she said.
Couldn’t all states be persuaded to make the necessary amendments? While the nation seems to be captivated, enchanted and mesmerised by sugar babies and sugar daddies, shouldn’t the same effort, money and time be spared for the children? Would you remain silent if it happened to your sister, daughter or even your grand-daughter? – ” MKINI
BERNAMA / MKINI