The marriage of a Malaysian man with a 11-year-old Thai girl has sparked outrage in the Muslim majority country with one activist Sunday labelling the groom a "child predator".
Malaysian Muslims below the age of 16 are allowed to marry if they obtain the permission of a religious court. (I wonder how much that costs? What cut does the Iman and Sharia judge take out of the price of a child bride these days?)
But the country's women and families ministry said there was no record of religious authorities approving the union, which took place last month across the border in Thailand's largely Muslim far south. Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail has said the marriage was illegal as it had not been approved by the Shariah court. She was meeting officials on Monday to discuss the issue, her aide said.
Rubber scrap dealer Che Abdul Karim Che Abdul Hamid secretly wed the girl as his third wife in Thailand, and the union became public after one of his wives lodged a complaint with police. The 41-year-old husband could be jailed for six months if he married without permission.
Malaysian activists have called for law reform to end child marriage, which they said was widespread among the country's Muslim population.
"Marrying a 11-year-old girl is like the behaviour of a child predator or paedophile," child activist Syed Azmi Alhabshi said. Mr Alhabshi said the man was a prosperous trader and already married to two women while the girl's parents were impoverished rubber farmers.
Photos on social media showed the groom holding the girl’s hand after the marriage ceremony. Local media said Che Abdul Karim, who is also an imam in a rural village in northeast Kelantan state, already has two wives and six children aged between five and 18.
He told Bernama news agency that his marriage was lawful and approved by the girl’s parents, who are poor rubber tappers in Malaysia. He has said he will only formalise the marriage in Malaysia when the girl turns 16 and that she will stay with her parents until then.
The girl was also quoted by local media as saying that she does not understand the fuss over her marriage as she is in love with Che Abdul Karim.
Ms Wan Azizah told local media that officials are investigating whether the parents approved the marriage due to poverty. She said an initial investigation found that the girl, who does not attend school, was wooed twice and that her mother had told the man she was too young and asked for the marriage to be consummated only when she turns 16. She also said the girl’s elder brother was grappling with juvenile problems, adding to the complexity of the issue.
“Paedophilia, child exploitation, child pornography … we must be firm on this as children are our responsibility,” she was quoted as saying.
Muslim men are allowed to marry up to four wives in Malaysia. Activists have urged the government to raise the minimum age for marriage to 18.
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