Is marriage a practice of religion or a manifestation of love?

(first published by The Malaysian Insider on December 09, 2010)

DEC 9 — Love. Why would I even use that word? To me, it sounds clichéd and too good to be true. However, recently, the country was awakened by the much-publicised mass wedding that included the marriage between a 14-year-old Muslim girl with her spouse, a 23-year-old teacher. And this was done in a ceremony officiated by a minister who condoned the act. After all, the marriage was given permission by the syariah court.

Like any other “older”, independent, single Muslim woman, I was utterly shocked. There I was thinking how absurd weddings are: the cost of one, the financial commitments that come with the marriage and witnessing one too many divorces happening between young couples, and then coming across the article of the happily-married young girl who said she will continue her studies while married.

The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) stated in its report that child marriages have quite severe physical, social and psychological consequences such as “Young girls who get married will most likely be forced into having sexual intercourse with their usually much older, husbands. This has severe negative health consequences as the girl is often not psychologically, physically and sexually mature. Child brides are likely to become pregnant at an early age and there is a strong correlation between the age of a mother and maternal mortality and morbidity. Girls aged l0-14 are five times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than women aged 20-24 and girls aged 15-19 are twice as likely to die.” I can’t imagine my child, or younger sister, being forced to be intimate with a man who claims to be her husband. I don’t think a child that young would want to voluntarily have sexual intercourse.

And it’s not just about that, although suffice to say that is one of the significant functions of a wife to her husband, referred to “nafkah batin”. How will this young one live? How does one even comprehend a 14-year-old girl relying on birth-control pills, having to skip all the enjoyment of childhood and teenage years, and then coming home to cook and clean for her husband?

I did engage in a conversation with some people who thought otherwise. A senior member of the family discussed the circumstances which he was once faced. A relative of his, a younger girl who ran away from home at the age of 14, was convinced to get married at the age of 16 because her blind father and her homemaker mother were not able to control her wild lifestyle. Fortunately, she found a man who was responsible and they are still happily married. These people had to make these choices because of their life circumstances. But that happened in the ‘80s. Another person mentioned about how a girl can physically and mentally be matured at that age, and this was based on a marriage of a nine-year-old girl in Thailand who voluntarily married young.

As much as I respect their opinions, I do believe if people do not think this is a bad thing, then it will keep on recurring. My personal argument is that, it is not fair for anyone to take the rights of a child so willingly like that in the name of “love”. A few weeks back I read in an article that a divorce happens in every five marriages. If we’re going to use the name of religion, we should all know clearly that God hates divorces. So, why would we throw people who can’t even fend for themselves in such situations? Freedom to marry is each individual’s right, but our Constitution states that even in choosing your own religion, you should be 18 years and above. So, how is it possible to marry under the name of religion when you’re so young?

If we have girls with wild lifestyles, we can give them a chance to change in rehabilitation centres. Another recent article mentioned marriage is not an excuse to legalise sex. The people who condoned these acts should ask themselves: would they bear seeing their children or younger sisters at that age married and living with those commitments, obligations and responsibilities?

I do hope people question all these and discuss openly. The problem with our culture is that it’s always about “saving face”. What’s left of our dignity if we keep on ripping the rights of others? I know what’s done is done, but I wish the little girl all the luck in the world in her marriage because this decision is clearly not hers to even begin with.

I’m not going anywhere

(first published by The Malaysian Insider on November 30, 2010)

NOV 30 — I remember the March elections in 2008. It was supposedly the first elections where I was eligible (or old and wise enough) to vote, but a few friends and I opted to be in Jakarta for the Java International Jazz Festival. So while waiting for the constant updates from home by our friends, we all sat together at the food court, laughing at the fact that we’re not there to contribute to the crazy waves of a tsunami hitting the shores of Malaysian politics.

Much has happened since then. These include my ongoing battle with friends on why I didn’t register myself as a voter and, of course, the ups, downs, sideways, inwards, twirling typhoon that comes after. We see everyone’s true colours, their rudeness, immature responses, some indecent sexual scandals and not to mentioned people being thrown off buildings and blown up.

Coming from the younger generation who practically grew up under a single premiership, it being Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s tenure as prime minister, I couldn’t see a lot of wrong things happening as I was either naïve at that time or I was just simply ignorant. I witnessed what was progress — Malaysia on the world map and becoming one of the fastest developing nations. We were not as fast as Singapore, but we took only 50 years to achieve what Mexico did to achieve in 200 years, and Europe, or even United States for that matter. I’ve seen universities grow like mushrooms, the modernisation of culture, the urbanisation of the people and much more. I was privileged enough to get the education I needed. I had no problems obtaining my first degree. I also get to watch world-class television broadcasts and films only a few days after its premiere screenings world wide.

But what has happened for the past two years has been eye-opening. No one represents the voice of the masses anymore. It’s just MY personal agenda (be it hidden or obvious), it’s MY party, it’s MY following, it’s MY post, it’s MY constituency. Heck, I don’t even know who my MP or ADUN is, and I have just recently registered myself as a voter. Will I know who I’m voting for, the party, the person, or someone who shares my belief in how this country should be governed?

What’s currently happening right now is considered a big joke to the younger generation. It’s like young adults discovering the mistakes made by their parents. Growing up, we always think that our parents make the best decisions for us, we’ve been told why this is wrong and why they did that. We get scared whenever we see our parents fight, thinking would this be the end of our family, will they get divorced, will we be sent to orphanages, how are we going to cope with our new adopted families or new step-siblings, etc. But now, we see how silly their arguments are actually, how they fought over glances at younger women, or maybe something stupid like “Why didn’t you listen to my story?” or, “Why did you fall asleep when I’m talking to you?”

I have seen a lot of younger people organising activities of their own. Activities that allow them to unite through passion and mutual interests. I’ve seen people work for no money at all just because they believe in something. And all these activities have one thing in common. The absence of government or political involvement, which have made them purer.

I also have seen efforts being made by these communities to propose their activities to government officials. This effort received wide media coverage but sadly, there was little media follow-up after the events. It is sad to see invited officials only wanting publicity, but there’s nothing that they can do if we’re not willing to provide financial gain to them in return. I know these things because I’m one of them, a young entrepreneur who has only her passion to back her up, and nothing else. No matter how thick our proposals are, we can never get through the bureaucracy and nepotism practised in the government and its agencies.

For whatever it’s worth, regardless of what’s happening, we all love our country, and we have hope and faith for the best. And unlike most people who have lost faith in the system, I won’t be migrating to another country, because I still love the drastic heat and crazy sudden rains of this country I call home.