The country’s Islamic council has issued a nationwide ban to stop children under the age of 17 from marrying. The new regulation took effect Dec. 4, but will be announced in all mosques Friday, according to Wisut Binlateh, a senior member of the Islamic Council. Additional measures will be taken to disperse the information through seminars.
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The new law is in response to the public outrage that broke out in July over the courtship of an 11-year-old Thai girl and a 41-year-old Malaysian man.
In the majority Buddhist country, Islamic law is observed for Muslims in four of its southern provinces. In the past, Islamic law allowed Thai children under the age of 17 to marry, as long as they had parental consent, Wisut told the Associated Press.
While Thai law restricts marriage under the age of 17, there are still loopholes and courts make exceptions for reasons not defined by law, according to the AP.
Now it will be more difficult to enter a child marriage under Islamic law, but human rights activists like Angkhana Neelaphaijit are worried the change won’t necessarily stop them. For starters, she told the AP the new rule does not hold any punishment for those who break it.
In 2017, UNICEF reported the rate of children married by the age of 15 was 4%. According to Neelaphaijit, Thailand’s Muslim provinces became a popular destination for Malaysian men seeking second or third marriages because they served minimal consequences for marrying minors there. Historically, young Thai girls living in poverty have been married off by their parents with permission of the local mosque as soon as they started menstruating, according to the Straits Times.
When young girls are forced into child marriages they often leave school, are more likely to experience domestic violence, and are at higher risk of dying from pregnancy and childbirth complications.
Neelaphaijit believes more needs to be done to protect young women from going down that path.
“It is a good thing that the Sheikhul Islam Office has introduced this measure, but we have to also try to reach an understanding with the religious leaders that if there are violators, what can we do to punish them,” Neelaphaijit said.