“One child marriage is one too many” is a saying Batu Kawan MP Kasthuri Patto firmly believes in. For her, children – boys and girls – belong in classrooms, not marital beds.
Next year, Kasthuri – who is in the parliamentary special select committee on rights and gender equality – will focus her attention on ensuring that children stay in school until Form 5.
“I would like to see the Education Ministry amend the Education Act 1996 to make it compulsory for children to be in school until the age of 17,” she said. “Studies have shown that when girls and boys stay in school, there’s less chance of them being exposed to child marriage and bad influences.”
Kasthuri said children deserve to be educated so they have a chance at a brighter future. “It’s a (vicious) cycle. Poverty is one of the reasons (cited in cases) for child marriages and why older children are pulled out of school. But without education they will be trapped in poverty.”
Children’s rights is not her only focus or passion. She also seeks to better the welfare of women in Malaysia. “For 2019, I want to ensure that more women, especially housewives and single mothers, become self-sufficient,” she said.
Citing Klang MP Charles Santiago’s programme of microloans for the needy in his constituency, Kasthuri said she wants to test its feasibility in other areas of the country.
“I plan to replicate it and see how it can be done in other states. I want to ensure that fewer women rely on welfare, and for more to be able to stand on their own feet.”
Kasthuri said her work on improving the lives of women and children will be ongoing for years to come. “There are a lot of things to do, but I’ll do what I can. Some can be done (within 2019), some will take longer, but it’s a cause I believe in.”
She added that she’s continuing the work of women who came before her, and hopes she will inspire younger women to carry on working for women’s and children’s rights for years to come.
“It’s not short-term. There are no shortcuts. The journey will be exciting an treacherous, but it’ll be rewarding in the end.”
This year, Kasthuri hopes that more women will be empowered to fight for their rights and welfare. “Young women nowadays know what they want,” she said. “I’m inspired by a lot of young people I speak to. I’m happy to see the younger generation breaking moulds and reaching for opportunities.”