When 14-year-old Siti Maryam Mahmood got married to religious teacher

 When 14-year-old Siti Maryam Mahmood got married to religious teacher, 23-year-old Abdul Manan Othman, the Malaysian public reacted with outrage but Maya, declared with defiance: “Marriage is the right of the individual and I am well-prepared to take up the duties of a wife.”

“I have thought about the responsibilities and the consequences of marrying at a young age. At the same time, I have my mother to guide me on my marriage and my wifely duties”, said Maya to the weekly Malay news magazine of The Star.

Abdul Manan was tutoring Maya’s two younger siblings on religion, when he got to know Maya. It is claimed that both their families were open-minded about the marriage.

However, the very public wedding of Maya to her husband at the 1Malaysia wedding reception organised by the Federal Territory Islamic Affairs Department (Jawi) sparked off a raging debate. Women, Family and Community Development Minister Shahrizat Abdul Jalil said that the Syariah Court’s decision to allow Maya’s marriage was not a government-endorsed policy.

She said, “Marriage is a serious issue. It is worrying when cases like this become a culture. The risks and impacts are severe to those who get married at a young age,” and stated that the family institution is a serious matter.

Maya declared that she was not forced into the marriage and that Abdul Manan had proposed.

She refuted suggestions that girls who married early were denied the opportunity to learn and develop to their full potential because they are “forced to be adults” through marriage. She said that she would complete her studies first before starting a family.

Meanwhile, Abdul Manan, has been accepted by the family as an anak angkat (foster son), He defended his right to marry Maya: “The marriage serves to allay the community’s negative perceptions about my relationship with her family,” and promised that his young wife would complete her secondary education.

He added that their marriage was valid under Islamic law and they had not done anything that is haram (illicit) or sinful.

“It is not like some youths who get babies out of wedlock and then dump the infants,” he said.

Maya’s mother, 41-year-old Siti Hawa Kassim, said she gave permission for Maya to marry because she was confident her daughter’s religious education would help her become a mature person who would be able to handle the challenges in marriage life.

Both Maya and her mother are setting a dangerous precedent.

What if every child demanded to be married ‘because it was their right’? How do you discipline children who may wish to have sexual relations and so neglect their studies? How do you set boundaries for children so that they learn to accept and decide what is wrong or right behaviour, and what are normal or abnormal practices?

Maya talked about her rights as a person to marry. But she forgets that her parents also have their rights to ensure that their child is given a good start in life. Chief amongst these is the provision of education.

Maya will not have the maturity to know or the understanding to realise, that a child has many rights including the right to live in a family environment and the right to education.

Will Maya acknowledge that parents have their rights and responsibilities, too?

Parents’ rights are to provide a home for the child, to protect and maintain the child, to discipline the child, to choose and provide the child’s education and to determine the religion of the child.

Can Maya grasp that the child's school years form an important part in their development and preparation for later life?

Then again, why should Maya understand? She is only a child.


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