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Another child bride in Malaysia: UN body condemns marriage of girl, 15, and groom, 44

The marriage was reportedly approved by a sharia court on the grounds of the poverty of the bride’s parents

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 September, 2018, 2:09pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 September, 2018, 9:36pm

Malaysia’s government has come under renewed pressure to outlaw child marriages after another case of a child bride surfaced in a poor rural state, the second in weeks.

A 15-year-old girl became the second wife of a 44-year-old man in northeast Kelantan state, The New Straits Times newspaper reported.

It said the union was approved by the Islamic sharia court in July after her parents consented on the grounds of the family’s poverty. However, the case only became public knowledge this week.

The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia said it was concerned that parents would resort to “selling” their children under the guise of marriage.

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“It now appears that poverty can also be a reason accepted by the sharia court to approve an application for marriage of an underage child, which in turn seems to treat children as mere commodities,” said commission chairman Razali Ismail.

He called for social protection for children in poverty and called for the government to outlaw child marriages.

Paedophiles are now clearly using marriage as a shield to prevent prosecution for rape or sexual grooming
Lawyers for Liberty executive director, Latheefa Koya

There was outrage in Malaysia and Thailand recently, when it emerged that a 41-year-old Kelantan rubber trader, Che Abdul Karim Che Abdul Hamid, had married an 11-year-old Thai girl as his third wife.

Muslim girls in Malaysia under the minimum legal marriage age of 16 can wed with the consent of a sharia court and their parents, while Muslim men can marry up to four wives.

The latest case has sparked renewed outrage among rights groups. Unicef slammed the marriage as “unacceptable” and urged Malaysia to bring legislative change to ban the practice.

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“New legislation on child marriage should be accompanied by other measures, including compulsory access to secondary education, sexual reproductive health education and poverty reduction,” said the UN body’s representative to Malaysia, Marianne Clark-Hattingh.

The New Straits Times quoted the girl’s parents as saying that they wanted a better life for their daughter, a school dropout and the youngest of 13 children.

In the previously reported case, the 11-year-old Thai girl was also a school dropout from a poor family.

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Che Abdul Karim, who already had two wives and six children, secretly wed the girl in Thailand. The union became public after one of his other wives lodged a complaint with police.

He was fined by the sharia court for marrying without its permission but wasn’t charged over the underage marriage.

He told local media he would formalise the marriage by applying for an official certificate in five years when his latest wife turns 16. The girl has reportedly been sent back to Thailand and is in the care of authorities.

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Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said the government is investigating the latest case but its hands are tied, as the marriage was approved by a sharia court.

She said the government was seeking to raise the minimum legal age of marriage for Muslim girls to 18, in line with civil laws.

Under Malaysia’s justice system, Muslims who make up two-thirds of the 31 million population are governed by Islamic courts when it comes to family, marriage and personal matters.

Rights group Lawyers for Liberty urged police to investigate the husband in the latest case for “sexual grooming”, because he reportedly knew the girl for several months before marriage.

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It warned that “paedophiles are now clearly using marriage as a shield to prevent prosecution for rape or sexual grooming” following the government’s failure to act, the group’s executive director, Latheefa Koya, said in a statement.

“This puts the children of this country, particularly Muslim children, in constant danger from perverts and paedophiles,” Koya said.

Government officials have said some 15,000 child marriages have been recorded in the past 10 years, two-thirds of which involve Muslims.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse