* by Hang Nadim
Malaysia and its authorities in general, are renowned for their knee-jerk reaction to social problems, opting almost always to address symptoms rather than the causal factors. The recent decision of the Malacca State Government to allow child marriages to purportedly curtail out-of-wedlock pregnancies is current testimony to this.
Fighting the temptation to use harsher words to describe this proposal, I will relent at merely stating that it is beyond intelligible comprehension. Just for purpose of argument and not that I support this idea, why does not the State impose mandatory chastity belts that may be only removed upon reaching the age of 18? Condoms provide another remedial measure. Does the State want to stop pre-marital sex or out-of-wedlock pregnancy? Will this new measure prevent out-of-wedlock pregnancies but give rise to more divorces since these children are typically immature and unable to cope with the daunting responsibilities of being a parent and wife?
If there was sincere introspection, the State should realise that the causal factors of this malady lay deeper than youth just engaging in pre-marital sex resulting in out-of-wedlock pregnancies. In my humble opinion, the most significant causal factor for this malady relates to the values held by our youth today. These values are contributed amongst others by religious beliefs, parental and family influence, societal environment and norms, and even governmental action.
I am not aware of any religion that encourages pre-marital sex though one may argue that some religions do not expressly prohibit it either. That’s really up to the individual to decide. On family influence, how often do parents and family members take the time today to teach our children good principles? I remember being taught these principles by my mother when I was very young – “You must never engage in physical activity with a woman before marriage. Try where possible not to even touch a woman. If you are introduced to a woman, always wait for her to extend her hand before you offer yours. Be courteous, show women respect and never use foul language etc. In other areas, I was reminded as soon as I started working “to never sell myself like a loaf of bread (i.e. accept bribes)”. These principles I continue to hold dearly. My mother lived those principles she taught me, strengthening my resolve to follow suit. As I was exposed later to the elements of the society, these principles continued to guide me. I never saw the need to conform to “the order of the day”. I still do not. I doubt I ever will. I used these principles as a sieve to weed out what I consider the bad from the good. These days, I only see parents emphasising that kids must study hard and accumulate wealth. Rarely anything else is added to the syllabi they ‘teach’ their children. Whether they practise what they teach is further in doubt. It is my humble view that a good education and wealth sans good principles/values is akin to having bones unclothed with flesh. When you add more bones to society, you get a society bereft of a soul, one that is in reality, dead.
Next, let us consider the values that the Malaysian society extols. I may be generalising by surmising that our society emphasises materialism and educational achievement (our version) that is individualistic. We rave about the ‘top richest men in the country’, the tallest twin towers in the world, the longest bridge, the number of ‘As” scored in exams, the ability to make the news or television, about going for holidays and to space, the sexual prowess of certain men, the record number of times certain men/ women married etc.. Why not emphasise values that we would like to see our society have and more importantly, truly live them.
The government clearly needs to engage with society and all its stakeholders to seek direction on how to restructure our society and address our social ills. It must cease pretending that it has all the answers. By evidence of this measure proposed by the Malacca State Government, it is evident that it does not even comprehend the question, let alone have an answer.