KUCHING (May 22): Majlis Adat Istiadat Sarawak (Mais) has taken an initial step to formulate a law on underage marriage, said Minister in the Premier’s Department Datuk John Sikie Tayai.
He said this proposed law, among others, would include the provisions for solemnisation of marriage, registration of marriage, as well as capacity and impediments for marriage.
“There would be specific provisions regulating underage marriage,” he said in his ministerial winding up speech at the State Legislative Assembly (DUN) today.
Sikie was responding to Pending assemblywoman Violet Yong, who in her debate speech in the DUN on May 17, had requested the Sarawak government take immediate action to tighten existing laws and policies to eradicate child marriage.
Yong had said that customary marriages lack specific regulations, making rural children particularly vulnerable to early marriages without penalty and she further requested Mais secure the consent of all community leaders to raise the minimum marriage age to 18 by July 2023.
On a related matter, Sikie said Mais had in 2021 embarked on a project to redevelop and upgrade the capabilities of the Native Marriage Electronic System (Names) to Names version 2.
He explained that Names is a system developed by the state government in 2010 to centralise the issuance of Adat Marriage and Adat Divorce certificates.
“Namesv2 will go live by June this year to enable the public to perform Adat Marriage Pre-Registration applications online through the Sarawak government’s official portal using SarawakID.
“For offline or counter services pre-registration, the Adat Marriage Pre-Reg Assist will be available to the public via 45 District Offices and 22 Sub-District Offices all over Sarawak.
“This pre-registration serves as a verification facility for Namesv2 secretariat to process every Adat Marriage Pre-Registration application in Sarawak,” he said.
He also said Namesv2 also provides system administrators with detailed and precise records of registered Adat Marriage and Adat Divorce, which is often requested by relevant government ministries and agencies to formulate governmental policies and programmes.
Sikie stressed the Adat, like any law, must be a living law where reviews and amendments are made from time to time when necessary to adjust and adapt to the prevailing social conditions in Native communities.
In view of the flux of social, economic, and political changes, he said some of the written Adat are no longer relevant or unsuitable for the regulation of social, economic, and political relations and affairs in some Native communities.
In this respect, he said since the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions in 2022, Mais has embarked on a programme to review the seven codified Adat.
“The exercise would involve, among other things, the amendment and/or re-interpretation of the Adat. One of the very ambitious and big tasks is an attempt to write the jurisprudence of Adat in textbook style for reference or academic purposes. The main objective is to explain Adat from a secular perspective.
“The explanation would attempt to give reasons or rationale behind the Adat and the ideal to be achieved by the Adat. The explanation would reflect the Natives’ philosophy or worldview,” he explained.
As such, he said Mais has engaged and conducted a series of workshops and field work sessions to meet and interview ketua masyarakat, ketua kaum, and Adat practitioners for data collection, feedback, recommendations on the codified Adat.
So far, six workshops have been conducted this year – two for the Iban, three for the Bidayuh, and one for the Orang Ulu.
“The emphasis is on Adat on settlement, Adat on family matters, Adat on land ownership or natural resources,” he said.
He added five Adat are going through the process of drafting and vetting, namely Adet Melanau, Adet Kajang, Adet Kiput, Adet Berawan, and Adet Bagatan.
The Borneo Post, by Samuel Aubrey