Gerakan Wanita praises tabling of Sexual Offences against Children Bill 2017 Tan Lian Hoe: Law review needed to standardise existing laws and address legal loopholes to stop child marriage

Press statement by

Gerakan Wanita Chairwoman

Dato Tan Lian Hoe

April 4, 2017

Gerakan Wanita Chairwoman, Dato Tan Lian Hoe praised the tabling of the second reading for the Sexual Offences against Children Bill 2017 in Parliament yesterday saying that it is the high time a law is created to protect children from the grasp of sexual predators. She also called on a similar government initiative to conduct law review and standardise existing laws to ban child marriage under the age of 18 without exemption and define 18 as the age of adulthood.

Tan said the Bill is timely and necessary to better protect children from sexual abuse. However, she opined that it is imperative for the government to replicate such efforts by reviewing existing laws in order to standardise and streamline law protection for children. She was concerned that despite the much-lauded efforts in introducing a Bill to enhance the protection for children from sexual abuse, it could be discounted by other laws that apparently contradict with the governments initiative.   

The introduction of the Sexual Offences against Children Bill 2017 should be accompanied by comprehensive and consistent efforts to review other existing laws to outlaw child marriage under the age of 18 regardless of sex or religion, said Tan.

Tan pointed out that Section 10 and 21(2) of the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 still allowed non-Muslims age to marry between the ages of 16-18 whereas Muslims were allowed to marry before 16 if granted permission by the Islamic Court as provided in Section 46(2) of the Islamic Family Law. She opined strongly that these legal loopholes should be reviewed and subsequent amendments are needed to curb the issue of forced and underage marriages and criminalising rapists from marrying underage victims to escape justice.

On another matter, Tan added that she was also concerned by calls from certain parties to reject the proposed amendments of the Legal Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 by apparently using religion as an excuse. She said the amendments are necessary as an effective solution to end confusion, pain and suffering from the longstanding issues of interfaith child custody and unilateral conversion of minors that have been hurting the society.

Tan stressed that only by providing a holistic and integrative law, children can be better protected. She regretted that religion has been used by certain parties as an excuse to denounce governments efforts, while ignorance and lack of regards for predicaments faced by women and children as demonstrated speak the necessity to promote public awareness apart from child law enhancement.

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