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16.12.10

A 14-year-old girl and 23-year-old man have celebrated their recent marriage in public in Malaysia's largest city, a report said Sunday, fuelling a debate on teen weddings.


Underage marriages are allowed for Muslims with court permission and parental consent but are not common in this Muslim-majority country.

The New Straits Times reported the Muslim couple, whose union was arranged by their parents, were married in July after obtaining permission from an Islamic court.

The couple, whose photo was published on the government-linked newspaper's front page, celebrated their union at a mosque in Kuala Lumpur Saturday together with about 250 other couples. The celebration was organized by Kuala Lumpur's Islamic department.

"It has been hard trying to juggle two roles - as a student and a wife - but I am taking it in my stride," said the bride, Siti Maryam Mahmod, who studies at a religious school.

Authorities could not immediately be reached Sunday to comment.

Muslims, who make up two-thirds of Malaysia's 28 million people, are permitted to marry after reaching puberty as long as they have consent from their parents and Islamic Shariah courts. For non-Muslim Malaysians, females must be at least 16 and males 18 to marry.

The Times quoted Jamil Khir Baharom, minister in charge of Islamic affairs, as saying that Siti Maryam was allowed to marry as long as she obtained court consent.

But Deputy Health Minister Rosnah Abdul Rashid Shirlin said child marriages should be forbidden.

"It is never OK for a 14-year-old to be married," the Muslim woman politician told The Associated Press.

Ivy Josiah, executive director of local group Women's Aid Organization, called on the government to repeal laws that allowed underage marriage for Muslims.

"Cultural and religious sensitivities should not be excuses for what is clearly a human rights violation," she said.

A southern state's leader made headlines in August when he encouraged teen marriages as a way to prevent young girls from having sex out of wedlock and getting pregnant. Dozens of babies are abandoned by young unwed Muslim mothers in Malaysia each year.

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