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NewsGirls & Women

11-Year-Old Child Bride, Forced to Marry 41-Year-OId Malaysian Man, Returns to Thailand

Why Global Citizens Should Care
Though the minimum age of marriage in Malaysia is technically 18, legal loopholes allow children to be married much younger. You can take action here to help end child marriage everywhere and achieve gender equality.

An 11-year-old girl who was illegally wed to a 41-year-old Malaysian man in June has been relocated to her native Thailand for emotional counseling, reported the New York Times.

Public outcry over the child, nicknamed Ayu, has inspired renewed efforts by the Malaysian government to enforce a stricter ban on child marriage in the country, according to officials.

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“We want to raise the age of marriage to 18 years and above,” said Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, Malaysia’s deputy prime minister and minister of women, family and community development, in an interview with the Times. “We have the political will to do that, but I have to engage all the stakeholders. That takes some time.”

Child marriage is still permitted in the Malaysia under certain circumstances, including Muslim wedding ceremonies, which are bound by Shariah law: Members of the Malay Muslim community can wed below the age of 16 if they receive permission from a religious court. Non-Muslims between the ages of 16 and 18 are also permitted to marry with the consent of state-level ministers.

But critics argue that condoning the practice allows pedophiles to prey upon poor families in the country, who often receive financial dowries in exchange for their children.

To wit, last year Malaysia passed a law against sexual grooming, in which an adult creates an emotional bond with a child for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

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Ayu was taken as the third wife of Che Abdul Karim Che Abdul Hamid, a Muslim rubber trader from the northern Malaysian state of Kelantan. Mr. Che Abdul Karim said that he would not “touch” Ayu until she was 16, according to the report. But the pair went on a holiday together to a Malaysian hill retreat, according to a social media post observed by his second wife.

Karim was fined $450 by a Kelantan Shariah court for marrying Ayu in Thailand without the court’s permission, but many view the penalty as a slap on the wrist and question why Ayu has been removed to Thailand when she is the key witness in an investigation by authorities into the marriage.

Mr. Che Abdul Karim could face six months in jail if it is found that he did not get permission in Malaysia, according to a report by Channel News Asia.

Current statistics have recorded 16,000 girls below the age of 15 in Malaysia as already married, according to the report. But Human Rights Watch senior researcher Heather Barr told Channel News Asia that, taking into account the number of children married before reaching 18, the figure could be "much much higher."