GEORGE TOWN (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - To marry a young girl seems to be the desire of some men, whether or not they are Muslim.
The recorded instances number in the thousands, whatever the religion.
According to Penang Institute, the state government's policy think-tank, statistics show that between 2005 and 2015, 10,240 Muslims applied for child marriages in Malaysia.
Among non-Muslims, 7,719 men applied to marry a girl aged between 16 and 18 from 2000 to 2014.
The Malaysian Syariah Judiciary Department says the highest number of Muslim child marriage applications came from Sarawak (2,064), Kelantan (1,929) and Terengganu (924) between 2005 and 2015.
Penang Institute political studies analyst Ooi Kok Hin, in his study last year titled Child Marriages In Malaysia: Reality, Resistance And Recourse, revealed that for non-Muslim child marriage applications between 2000 and 2014, Sarawak also took the top spot with about 1,750 cases, with Johor coming in next with about 1,000 cases.
Penang had about 250 non-Muslim child marriage applications, and Selangor about 700 in that period.
Mr Ooi said the approval rate for Muslim applications in 2015 was 81 per cent.
"So, Syariah Court judges approved eight out of 10 child marriage applications," he said, adding that he was unable to gather statistics on the approval rate of non-Muslim child marriage applications.
For non-Muslims wanting to marry someone under the age of 18, they must have the approval of the Menteri Besar or Chief Minister.
The Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 stipulates that under no circumstances can the marriage of non-Muslims below 16 years old be legally approved.
"Child marriage is not a fringe issue in Malaysia. Most immediately, we are dealing with cases of children being forcibly and suddenly exposed to sexual acts before they are physically and emotionally ready," said Mr Ooi.
Meanwhile, Penang Women, Family, Gender Inclusiveness and Non-Islamic Religion Committee chairman Chong Eng announced that the state secretary and state legal adviser have been instructed by the state executive council to study how to amend Penang's Islamic laws to raise the minimum age of Muslim marriages to 18 for both men and women.
"Our Chief Minister informed the exco after his meeting with the Prime Minister and the exco agrees to explore this amendment," she said.
As with most states, Section 8 of the Penang Islamic Family Law Enactment 2004 states that no marriage may be solemnised where either the man is under the age of 18 or the woman is under the age of 16, except where the Syariah judge has granted permission in certain circumstances.
The enactment does not spell out the circumstances.