11-year-old child bride in Malaysia returns to Thailand for counselling
Girls should be free to play and develop as normal children, not brides.
Recently, parents around the world expressed their outrage when a 41-year-old Malaysian man married an 11-year-old Thai girl. Shockingly, it came to light that the man in question had his eyes on the girl ever since she was seven, saying he did it “to put her under his care”.
What makes this situation even worse is that the man already has two wives. What’s more, his children with both wives were even friends with the 11-year-old girl. Now, however, there is finally some good news in this 11 year old child marriage Malaysia incident.
On August 8, the girl went back to Thailand due to “immense pressure from Malaysian media”, say reports, quoting provincial governor Suraporn Prommool.
Mr Prommool also adds that she is now receiving mental health counselling due to the public outrage over their marriage.
While it is a huge relief that the girl is back in her country, needless to say, the repercussions of a child-marriage are many. Undoubtedly, it has had a serious impact on the child’s mental and physical well-being.
Children involved experience a lack of freedom, and the separation from friends and family affects them emotionally and psychologically in unimaginable ways. Without emotional or physical maturity, these children face serious health risks should they get pregnant, and more risks when they give birth.
There’s also a very high risk that a girl bride will suffer domestic violence. Research from the journal Paediatrics has discovered that girls younger than 18 years old who marry are likelier to suffer from depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder. These same women may also rely on alcohol, drugs and nicotine to deal with their emotions.
In the case of this 11-year-old girl, she is also at risk of being shunned by her society, further complicating matters.
Despite the 41-year-old rubber tapper justifying the marriage, saying he did it so he could look after the girl, neither Thai nor Malaysian laws ever officially recognised it as marriage.
According to Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister, the local registries did not record the marriage.
This indicates that the marriage is invalid in the eyes of Malaysian Law. Furthermore, Malaysian law also states that “consent” of children under 12 years of age does not constitute consent at all.
According to Suraporn, the marriage was also not certified by Thailand’s civil law. Rather, only an Islamic council in Narthiwat officially declared the marriage, with the approval of the girl’s parents.
Unfortunately, Thai authorities cannot invalidate the marriage as it was officially declared under religious law.
Child marriage is a common issue in Malaysia. Recent statistics indicate that about 16,000 girls under 15 years are married in Malaysia. This is an alarming number, yet Human Rights Watch senior researcher, Heather Barr, thinks that the statistics underestimate the severity of the situation. She says that the real figure could be “much much higher”.
The public outrage from the incident has resulted in Malaysia taking a firm stance on the issue.
The Ministry of Women and Family Development recently announced on Facebook that Malaysia is “unequivocally” against child marriage. They will take action to ensure that only individuals above 18 years will marry.
However, religious and civil laws in Malaysia may complicate things. Even if the government and rights groups do everything they can, many conservative communities may still argue for child marriage.
According to James Nayagam, a children’s advocate, child marriage has become a disputable issue in Malaysia without a good resolution. He believes that even if cases can be reduced, chances are, the problem is still far from being solved.