41-year-old man marries 11-year-old girl: Investigations launched
These are girls, not brides...
For many years NGOs have fought hard to ban child marriage in Malaysia, but failed to do so because it goes against sharia law.
However, recent solemnisation pictures of a 41-year-old man and his 11-year-old wife sparked outrage and disbelief among many Malaysians, as well as netizens around the world.
Here's the situation. The man has two wives. The first wife has a child who is 16 years old and all children from the second wife are under the age of 12. Both wives earn a living by being traders and maintain a good relationship with each other.
Then comes the 11-year-old wife. She is the youngest child in the family and she and her family are Thai citizens.
She is friends with the man's 16-year-old daughter. In fact, they do religious studies together, taught by this man, who is an Imam.
Her parents, who gave consent to the marriage are rubber tappers who occasionally sold rubber they collected to the Imam. The marriage was conducted in Thailand on June 18 this year.
'I accepted because I love him'
When asked why she consented to the marriage, the girl told the New Straits Times it was because she loved him.
"Since we got married about two weeks ago, we have yet to sleep together. My husband promised we will only live together in another five years."
Her (now) husband, known as Che Abdul Karim Che Hamid, told local reporters that he would not hesitate to take legal actions against allegations made that his marriage is wrong and considered as child marriage in Malaysia.
Despite pressures from his first and second wife to annul the marriage, he insists he would do no such thing. "It is because I like her that I made an agreement with her parents. We may be wed, but she will only come and live with me after she turns 16.”
Che Abdul Karim Che Hamid claims that he made inquiries with various religious experts in Southern Thailand. The solemnisation was done in the presence of an Imam, her parents and witnesses as per the pictures that went viral.
Child Marriage in Malaysia
The question is, who will protect the rights of this child? Despite saying that she loves him, does she understand the full impact of her decision? Does an 11-year-old child even understand what love is?
According to Malaysian social activist Syed Azmi, there are many more underlying issues to consider than what meets the eye.
The fact that the marriage was done without the knowledge and consent of both wives is worrying. Furthermore, there's the 11-year-old's bravado in refusing to annul the marriage. Who will protect her? We do not know if she was put in a vulnerable position, or if she was exploited in any way.
Her parents were initially shocked when Che Abdul Karim Che Hamid expressed interest in marrying their daughter. But now, they fully support her in continuing with this union. "We are just poor people. Let our son-in-law handle the situation," said her father.
In Malaysia, girls can legally marry at 16, and the boys at 18. However, younger Muslim children are allowed to wed legally if they have consent from both parents and religious courts.
The question on everyone's mind is why did he secretly marry her in Thailand? If his true intention was to give her a better future, he could have considered other methods instead of marrying her and causing a nationwide outcry against child marriage in Malaysia.
'I don't agree with the fact that his new wife is still a child'
When asked why she decided to expose her husband, the second wife replied:
"I am not angry that he has taken another wife. But I don't agree with the fact that his new wife is still a child. She is also friends with my 15-year-old stepdaughter."
From 2010 to 2015, there were more than 9,000 records of child marriage in Malaysia according to the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry. The cases predominantly involved families in rural or traditional communities.
According to the New Straits Times, the Narathiwat Islamic Religious Council has denied conducting a marriage for the 11-year-old and the rubber trader in their district.
Despite Thailand having similar religious laws as the ones on child marriage in Malaysia, the council never conducted a marriage process for the couple.
Putting an End to Child Marriages
How do we end child marriages? And we're not just talking about child marriage in Malaysia alone, but everywhere in the world.
Ending child marriage and supporting married girls require work across four areas:
- Girls in our community need to be empowered to forge their own paths in life.
- We need to mobilise families and communities to raise awareness of the harmful consequences of child marriage.
- Provide services like quality education, healthcare and child protection mechanisms.
- Establish and implement laws and policies to not only prevent child marriage but to also be a step towards recognising and upholding girls’ rights.
Of course, changes do not happen overnight. But if everyone plays a role in supporting these ideas, the ban on child marriage can be a reality in the near future.
Lead and feature image credit to Syed Azmi