World News

Malaysia investigating purported marriage of 11-year-old girl

Posted July 2, 2018 2:15 a.m. EDT

— Malaysian authorities are investigating the purported marriage of an 11-year-old Thai girl and a 41-year-old Malaysian man, after the case sparked outrage and discussion of Malaysia's laws on polygamy and child marriage.

Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said Malaysian authorities are looking into whether "sexual grooming" took place before their purported marriage and will offer the girl "medical professionals and counselors to assist her in coping with this situation."

Both child marriage and polygamy can be legal in Malaysia if certain criteria are met, and critics worry those laws provide cover for pedophiles and the exploitation of children.

The two individuals were purportedly married last month during a solemnization ceremony in southern Thailand, according to Malaysia's state-run Bernama news. The girl and her parents are Thai citizens but they live in Malaysia, according to the New Strait Times, one of Malaysia's biggest newspapers.

News of their marriage went viral after the groom's second wife posted images on social media recently. The girl would be his third wife.

However, the two do not appear to be married by law in Thailand or Malaysia.

The 41-year-old man told Bernama that he would wait to get the girl a proper marriage certificate when she turned 16 and they would not live together until then.

He also said the two were married with the blessing of the young girls' parents', and that he would pursue legal remedies to clear his name "from the inaccurate and malicious allegations."

Wan Azizah said in a statement Monday there is no record of the marriage taking place in the man's home state of Kelantan, nor has she seen any evidence of the marriage being conducted in Thailand. Because of that, the two individuals are being treated by law enforcement as unmarried, she said.

The Thai government told CNN it is aware of the situation and is in the process of crafting a statement.

'Shocking and unacceptable'

The United Nations' Children's Fund's representative to Malaysia, Marianne Clark-Hattingh, said in a statement she was outraged by the reported marriage, calling it "shocking and unacceptable."

Malaysia's Human Rights Commission said it was "troubled" by the purported union, and called on Shariah court judges to stop allowing child marriages.

Child marriage is accepted in certain cross sections of Malaysia, though attitudes are changing, according to advocacy group Girls Not Brides.

More than 9,000 child marriages were recorded in the five years between 2010 and 2015, Malaysia's Women, Family and Community Development Ministry said in 2016. The country is one of the few that does not provide annual data on child marriage to UNICEF, according to Human Rights Watch.

Malaysia has two sets of laws governing marriage for Muslims -- which varies state-to-state -- and non Muslims, according to Ragunath Kesavan, a former president of the Malaysia Bar Council.

The Islamic law in the state of Kelantan stipulates that the minimum age for a woman to be married is 16 unless approval is given by a Shariah court judge or a chief minister, according to Wan Azizah.

Polygamy is legal in all states throughout Malaysia, but a groom needs to obtain consent of earlier wives before taking on another wife. Violating the rules leads to a fine of 1,000 ringgits ($248), according to Kesavan.