Brave New World (The Star)
18 March, 2010
When Man was lucky to live past 30, starting a family young might have made sense, but with lifespans having expanded many-fold, surely children should not be pressed into the rigours of adulthood
IN THE 19th century, slavery was still legal in many parts of the world. Societies which allowed for this practice often found justification for slavery in the scripture. Neither the Bible nor the Quran specifically disallows slavery.
To be fair, there are verses in both books which might be interpreted to discourage it, but if you are looking for any lines that say “slavery is bad, don’t do it, at all, ever,” well, you are in for a long search.
However, the cruelty of slavery soon became too much for people to endure. Values were changing and what was once deemed normal, became repulsive. This being the case, both Christian and Muslim scholars had to rethink the way they looked at the issue.
Many of the abolitionists at this time were Christians who chose to look at the “spirit” of the Bible, rather than specific verses, to oppose slavery from a religious perspective. Muslim scholars, while accepting that slavery was allowed in principle, concluded that it led to such cruel practices that it was no longer acceptable.
By the beginning of the 20th century, slavery was a thing of the past. Sure, it still happens, it happens today, but it is no longer legal, and stories of its existence are met with outrage.
In other words, values change and societies change with them regardless of earlier practices.
Another example from the 19th century is the age of consent for girls. Up till 1874, the age of consent for girls in England was 12. This was then raised to 13 in 1875. About a decade later, it was raised to 16 where it remains today.
The main proponents for the raising of the age of consent were concerned by the large amount of child prostitution that was occurring. With such a low age of consent, it was easier for young girls to be made prostitutes and harder to prosecute the men who preyed on them.
Today, of course, the concern for the protection of young girls (and boys) has become linked more to their mental and physical well-being.
Child prostitution still occurs, and to see images of broken little children being pawed by lecherous paedophiles is disgusting and disturbing to the extreme. But even without such vile practices, it is still generally accepted that children need to be protected.
If we look at the Islamic idea of what constitutes adulthood and sexual maturity, it is based on two very simple things. For girls, it is when they get their first period and for boys it is when they wake up in the morning feeling confused and with their pyjamas in a mess.
This may have been well and good in the 6th century but, really, times have changed. For one thing, the transition from childhood to adulthood has become much more extended.
Schooling, for example, is no longer a luxury for the wealthy but open to almost every child. The preparation time needed to become a grown-up has become more complex, and therefore children are not expected to jump immediately from childhood to the responsibilities of adulthood.
The need for the human race to procreate has also changed in the sense that there is far less urgency considering that lifespans have been extended significantly. Perhaps in a harsh world where one was lucky to live past 30, it made sense for people to start families as early as physically possible. But surely that is no longer the case.
This brings us to the story of the 11-year-old girl who was married off in Kelantan to a man in his 40s. The fact that it happened is not particularly shocking. This sort of thing occurs. Paedophiles exist. What should be shocking is the apparent “justification” used by the man (and I use the term here loosely), that the girl was “old enough” and their “marriage” was lawful.
The law as it stands does allow for Muslim girls younger than 16 to be married off with special dispensation. I think that it should be changed so that it is not allowed at all for girls under 16 to be married.
I realise that maturity is different from person to person. There are very mature 15-year-old girls who may well be able to handle marriage and child rearing. Just as there are very immature 18-year-old women who can’t. So, the age of 16 may seem arbitrary. However, a line must be drawn somewhere and short of further studies, it may as well remain at 16.
The importance of changing the law is two-fold. The first is to protect all our children in general. The second is to lay down the idea that as a society, we care that our children are given that protection so that they can grow safely and securely into adulthood.
Surely that should be the values we are projecting in this day and age, not some outdated concept from a bygone age.