Ref: Malay Mail
In 2018, in the beautiful thrush of Gua Musang, Kelantan, an 11 year old girl became the third wife of Mr Che Abdul Karim, 41. The groom already had two wives and children who were older than his third wife, with the children ranging between the ages of 5 and 18.
The girl’s parents agreed to the marriage on the prerequisite that she would not live with the groom until she was 16. The groom, who worked as a scrap metal dealer, was comparatively more wealthy than the bride’s parents who lived in poverty.
The man got the wedding officiated in Thailand illegally for £105 but was fined, £340 by the Syariah courts in Malaysia for conducting the marriage without the court’s permission.
This case is one of 1,500 cases of child marriage that occur every year according to UNICEF. The common thread between all of these cases is contrary to popular belief, not a shared religion per se-but the incidence of poverty combined with old harmful customs.
An 11 year old girl becomes the bride of a 41 year old man/Ref: The Star
Law in Malaysia
A Syariah Court/ Ref:freemalaysiatoday
In Malaysia, there is a dual system of law between Muslims and non-Muslims in the country, with even certain sects within the non-Muslim population being exempt from certain laws. The separation of a Syariah court from a court of civil law hails from the result of the Reid Commission’s decision to make religion a state matter in 1956 and separates legislation into civil law, which applies to non-Muslims, and Shariah law which applies only to Muslims.
Non-muslims are governed under the Law Reform (Marriage & Divorce) Act 1976, while Muslim marriages and divorces are governed by the respective state Islamic Family Laws. The legal age of marriage under the 1976 act is 18 years old, but a girl can marry at 16 years old if a license is obtained from the state’s chief minister - however non-Muslims cannot marry below 16 years old.
The catch of this is that under Syariah courts, judges have discretion to grant consent for marriages below the stated age.
The reasons for this approval by Shariah courts include if the children are able to support and manage a household, memorisation of basic Islamic teachings and the availability of the family support. There is no minimum age for Muslims to marry.
The Act does not apply to indigenous people living in Sabah and Sarawak, as well as Orang Asli in the peninsular. And with that exception, child marriage practices are common among the indigenous community. It was reported by the Sarawak Council for Customs and Traditions, that 1,472 child marriages took place between 2011-2016 amongst the Orang Asli population (who are generally non-muslims).
According to Penang’s Institute Child Marriages, a total of 6,268 of the child marriage cases involved Muslim couples, while the remaining 2,775 involved non-Muslims.
The Malaysia-Thai border/ ref: The Guardian
The reason why some who wish to be involved in child marriage take the trip north up to Thailand is that although since 2003 no one under 17 can marry, sex with a minor being a prosecutable offence.
However, in the Southern provinces of Thailand - Narathiwat, Pattani and Yalla, which are Muslim majority - there is a legal loophole. According to this law, there is no minimum age for marriage and culturally, girls are deemed eligible as soon as they begin menstruation.
This loophole has even created a business out of Malaysian men looking to marry underage or polygamous brides, a procedure which in Malaysia would be an impossible or lengthy process.
Mohamed Lazim arranges cross-border marriages for Malaysian men
Mohamed Lazim, runs a business with over 50 bridegrooms a year. He insists these are only for those wanting a second or third wife and never with underage brides-but states his business is smaller than many.
Imams on the Thai side charge 4 times as much to conduct a marriage for Malaysians as they would for Thai people. In the case of Che Abdul Karim at the beginning of this article, he said it would have been difficult or impossible to obtain permission to marry Ayu.- Suggesting that the requirements by Malaysian Syariah courts are high. However in Thailand, Abdul Karim merely needed to pay the aforementioned £105 to get it done.
Why it happens
“Don’t want to marry”/ ref:wikiimpact
There is definitely a religious and cultural aspect to underage marriages, in Islamic teaching, the prophet Muhammad married many brides in order to give them protection from the world at the time.
Today, the practice may full well be between two consenting teenagers, or an 18 year old with a 20 year old. However there have been rise to heinous circumstances that Malaysian law has allowed to transpire.
There is a notion that child marriage needs to occur to alleviate societal shame from rape. In 2013, a 40 year old Riduan Masmud, was charged with raping a 13-year old girl in eastern Sabah.
The restaurant owner had known the girl for 6 months and committed the act in a parked car in February. He later married the girl under Syaria law as his second wife. Masmud reportedly paid £1,100 pounds to the girl’s family in compensation. "It is best for her that they get married," he said. "What else can I do?"
Other cases in 2013, such as when a 13-year old girl married her 20-year old husband who allegedly gang-raped her with two other friends- 4 months before the wedding. The victims father said “I had to marry her off because she was raped."
The 44-year old father of the 13-year old girl initially filed a police report, but later withdrew it after pleas from the rapist’s parents. The couple broke up after a few months of the marriage due to the girl stating she could no longer handle the abuse from her in-laws.
Another reason for this phenomenon is that the family of underage brides may live in poverty and seek to receive both dowry and the continued support of an older husband. In the cases listed above, many of them involved families who lived in low income households who were given money by an older groom.
Effects on the child
Its safe to say that child marriage is almost never beneficial for the child bride in question. For starters child brides tend to drop out of school, for the 445 child marriages in 2021, 411 of the girls have dropped out of school. This may be due to the fact that they may become pregnant and have to care for their children.
There is also high physical risk to being a young mother, pregnancy among young girls increase the risk to both the foetus and the mother.-With younger pregnant mothers having a higher probability of developing prenatal and postnatal complications, further increasing the risk of infant mortality.
There is also the mental aspect of many girls who are unwilling participants in the marriage and may have suffer sexual abuse at the hands of their partners both during and possibly before. This mental toll may be extended to abuse at the hands of in-laws during the marriage.
Opinion of government and how to stop it
In response to each one of these cases the Malaysian government has expressed dissatisfaction with the issue but has not gone above to introduce a concrete plan to tackle the issue.
Just one week ago, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called onto current Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s government to step up the pace of legal reforms to better protect minority communities and freedoms.
In a 712-page report in 2022, on children’s rights HRW stated that Malaysian law still allowed minors to be married. The onus will be on the new government to enforce these rights while the world is watching