KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 7 — The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has urged Malaysia to stop child marriage and female circumcision, and to prevent violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.
Michelle Bachelet said she was honoured to be the first-ever UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to have visited Malaysia, meeting with Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, several ministers, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam), and civil society groups here over the weekend.
“On the issue of child marriage, we discussed how to work towards a harmonised standard across the country, raise the minimum age for compulsory education, and address contributing factors such as teenage pregnancy.
“I also encourage the government to move forward on a comprehensive gender equality bill to tackle discrimination,” Bachelet told a press conference here last Saturday.
Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail reportedly said last month that seven states disagreed with the federal government’s proposal to raise the minimum legal age of marriage to 18, which were Sarawak, Pahang, Perlis, Terengganu, Kelantan, Negri Sembilan, and Kedah. Muslim marriage is regulated under state Shariah legislation.
Sarawak is governed by Gabungan Parti Sarawak, while Barisan Nasional holds Pahang and Perlis. Kelantan and Terengganu are under PAS, while Pakatan Harapan, which also holds federal power, controls Negri Sembilan and Kedah.
Bachelet said the UN sustainable development goals’ (SDGs) objective of leaving no one behind meant addressing problems of the most vulnerable and to target affirmative action policies on the basis of need, using clear data to identify the situation of specific communities.
“It also means taking measures to promote gender equality and to prevent violence against women and end harmful practices, including female circumcision, as recommended by the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Violence Against Women.
“It means ensuring that people are not deprived of their human rights and are not subjected to violence because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Bachelet said.
Hate crimes against LGBT people are not specifically recognised in Muslim-majority Malaysia. The Malaysian government reportedly abstained last June from voting on an International Labour Organisation (ILO) global treaty to protect workers from sexual harassment and violence that initially listed the LGBT as a “vulnerable group”.
Bachelet, however, commended the Malaysian government’s determination to make progress on various SDGs.
“I was particularly impressed by the vision of a ‘Compassionate Islam’ intersecting with the SDG goals and reinforcing their strength.”
Bachelet added that upholding the SDGs meant protecting Orang Asli rights, including their land rights, as she praised proposed amendments to the Aboriginal Peoples Act 1954 and the National Convention on Orang Asli.
“It means tackling the problems of statelessness and ensuring access for refugees and undocumented migrants to their economic and social rights, including education, health care and access to livelihoods.”
When asked if the Health Ministry should publish the full report on its internal inquiry into allegations of forced birth control among Orang Asli women in Perak, Bachelet said it was difficult to give her opinion because she did not know the facts.
“But having said that, I do believe that in general, transparency is important. and in particular with indigenous people, I think it’s especially important that in any situation, health or others, that they should have information and informed consent on whatever thing is worked with them, in any area.”