Why Global Citizens Should Care
Poverty and lack of education are among the main drivers of child marriage, a harmful practice that disproportionately impacts girls like 11-year-old Masaryu Mat Rashid. You can take action here to help end child marriage everywhere, and join us in supporting the rest of the Global Goals.

The marriage of a 41-year-old Malaysian man to an 11-year-old Thai girl has prompted public outrage in both Thailand and Malaysia this month, leading to calls for child marriage to be outlawed.

After pleading guilty, the man, Che Abdul Karim Che Abdul Hamid, has been fined $450 (1,800 Malaysian Ringgit) and faces possible jail time for charges of polygamy and marriage without court permission, the Guardian reported.

Che Abdul Karim, who married 11-year-old Masaryu Mat Rashid in her native Thailand in June, was notably not charged with underage marriage. Though the minimum marriage age in Thailand is officially 17, younger children can be married with parental consent and at the court's discretion. In Malaysia, where both Che Abdul Karim and Mat Rashid live with their respective families, the minimum marriage age is 18 under civil law. However, girls as young as 16 can be married under civil law with the permission of the chief minister of their state, while Muslim girls can be married at any age with the approval of a Sharia court.

Che Abdul Karim did not have the permission of the Sharia court to marry Mat Rashid — who is just a few years older than his youngest child. Despite this and the charges, the marriage remains valid under Islamic law in Malaysia, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Women and Family Development Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said on Sunday.

The case first gained public attention after one of Che Abdul Karim’s wives posted photos of the wedding on social media and lodged a complaint with the police, according to the Washington Post.

Take Action: Tell world leaders to stop child marriage for good

“I never expected this to actually happen. If he marries a woman and not a child, I can accept it,” Che Abdul Karim’s second wife told The Star Online. “I even tried to match-make him with another woman but he declined. What angers me is he married my child’s friend,” she said.

Mat Rashid returned to Gua Musang in the Malaysian state of Kelantan the day of the wedding, to her parents' home, where Che Abdul Karim had agreed to let her live until she turns 16, at which pointed he planned to officially register their marriage in Malaysia. The 41-year-old is now required to register the marriage in Kelantan state, but must first obtain the permission of the Sharia court, Malay Mail reported.

Child marriage statistics in Malaysia are scarce, but the country’s family and community development deputy minister reported in 2010 that 16,000 girls aged below 15 in the country were married.

Read more: The World May Miss Its Goal of Ending Child Marriage by 2030

Though Mat Rashid’s father initially refused to allow his daughter to marry Che Abdul Karim because of her age, he eventually relented.

“The man was willing to marry my daughter because he wanted to help me as I am poor and depend on the income I get tapping rubber," her father told reporters. According to local child rights activists, Che Abdul Karim is a successful trader to whom Mat Rashid’s father had previously sold rubber.

Read more: This American Girl Was Forced to Marry a Stranger in a Religious 'Cult' at Age 15

The young girl, who is not in school, told Bernama, a Malaysian news agency, that she "[accepts] whatever decision my parents and husband have made” and that she is happy with her husband and unbothered by online criticism of their marriage. The union makes the young girl Che Abdul Karim’s third wife and a stepmother to his six children — under Malaysian law, Muslim men can marry up to four wives, with permission from the Sharia court.

Malaysian authorities investigated whether the marriage was motivated by poverty and "whether there [were] elements of sexual grooming between the man and this girl before the supposed marriage,” Wan Azizah Wan Ismail told the press last week. The practice of "grooming" children for sexual abuse and pornography was criminalized in 2017 when Malaysia passed a child sexual abuse bill, but the legislation stopped short of criminalizing child marriage.

Authorities reportedly found no signs of abuse, but Wan Azizah said the government will continue to closely monitor the case and that the government is engaging with the National Fatwa Council, Malaysia's top Islamic body, to raise the minimum marriage age to 18.

Both poverty and lack of education are major drivers of child marriage globally, according to UNICEF, and the harmful practice disproportionately affects girls. More than 650 million girls and women alive today were married as children.

The news of Mat Rashid and Che Abdul Karim’s marriage has renewed calls for the outlawing of child marriage in Malaysia — whose capital hosted nonprofit Girls Not Brides’ international conference to end child marriage in late June.

UPDATE Tuesday, July 10, 11 a.m. ET: This article has been updated to reflect Che Abdul Karim's $450 fine and other charges.


Demand Equity

41-Year-Old Man Fined Just $450 Over Marriage to 11-Year-Old Girl

By Daniele Selby