Oh hey, we’re back in the international spotlight again. And unfortunately, it’s not good news this time:
Unless you’ve been living under the proverbial rock, or perhaps you’re on a “social media detox”, you’ve probably seen some news about a recent child marriage. 41-year-old Che Abdul Karim Che Abdul Hamid from Kelantan married an 11-year-old Thai girl in southern Thailand recently.
The girl, whose family works in a rubber estate in Kelantan, does not go to school and – oddly enough – is close friends with the children of her husband’s first wife. Anyway, their marriage is sparking huge controversy as lawyers, activists, NGOs and even the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) condemning the marriage.
“It is shocking and unacceptable. Unicef … calls on the government to make good its manifesto promise to ban child marriage,” – Marianne Clark-Hattingh, UNICEF, quoted by The Guardian
The question remains though: how lax are the laws that a 41-year-old man from Kelantan managed to get into Thailand and marry a child who should still be in primary school?
Well, he didn’t technically… marry her!
See here’s the thing. Despite all the laws and protection that have been set in place by both Thailand and Malaysia, they don’t technically apply to her and her supposed 41-year old husband. According to a report by Bernama as well as CNN, they… aren’t even married by law.
Yeah, so apparently despite there being a whole solemnisation ceremony and what not, the two are not actually married by law in neither Thailand nor Malaysia. Deputy Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Wan Azizah also said that since there’s no formal records of a marriage between the man and child in Kelantan or Thailand, the authorities have to continue treating the two of them as unmarried.
Instead, it seems as though what happened is that the ‘marriage ceremony’ that happened in southern Thailand was just him getting the blessing of the girl’s parents. The marriage is apparently just a ‘nikah gantung‘ where the marriage is suspended and will only be consummated after a given amount of time.
Despite the backlash, it seems as though both the man and the 11-year old aren’t giving up each other just yet. Activist Syed Azmi recently uploaded the following image showing what is supposedly the ‘marriage ceremony’ and a message from the girl to the man’s other two wives:
Che Abdul Karim meanwhile has so far continued to insist that he won’t give up on the 11-year old becoming his third wife. He says that once the girl turns 16, he’ll bring her home to make the marriage official with all the necessary legal certificates.
As of the time of writing however, the girl has been taken back to Thailand by her family. Their house in Kelantan still has their clothes and all, making it seem as tho they probably rushed back across the border. Neighbours meanwhile say that her parents brought her back to Thailand to renew her passport.
This still begs the question tho: what if he actually did try to marry the 11-year old? What laws and preventive measures are currently in place to prevent child marriages in both Malaysia and Thailand?
Actually… Thailand has (slightly) better child protection laws compared to us
Yep, you read that right. Despite the supposed marriage of the child happening in Thailand and that the kid is a Thai citizen, they technically have better laws than us in terms of protecting children from being forced into marriage.
For a start, when it comes to recognising and ratifying international treaties that protect children, our Siamese counterparts have signed and ratified more of those than us. Malaysia can proudly say that they’ve signed and ratified the following:
- Convention on the Rights of the Child
- Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of Children
- Child Prostitution and Child Pornography Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
However, the Thais have also done the same, and one upping us by also having ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Furthermore, they’ve signed and recognised these international treaties earlier than Malaysia for all of them. But what about the domestic law in both countries tho?
- You can only get married when you turn 18.
- The law controlling your marriage in Malaysia is the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act of 1976. According to it:
- Your marriage to anyone under 18 is considered illegal.
- However, if your wife-to-be is between 16-18, she can ask the Chief Minister of her state to let y’all get married.
- Also, your parents need to let you two marry if y’all below the age of 21.
- If you’re Muslim, you’d need permission from the Syariah Court.
- Muslim Malaysians have the Islamic Family Law (Federal Territories) Act of 1984 governing them. That one also has some protection for children being forced into unwanted marriages.
- This law requires you and your spouse-to-be as well as the woman’s parents to give official consent to the marriage.
- It’s also illegal to use force to make a marriage happen.
- Our Thai friends meanwhile must wait til they’re 17 to marry.
- If you want to dig thru their marriage laws, you can find them in the Thai Civil and Commercial Code (Book V).
- Your marriage to anyone under 18 is considered illegal.
- But, if you have some super good reason to give the court, still possible laa.
- Also, your parents must say yes to the marriage if y’all under 21.
- Similar to Malaysia’s religious laws, Thailand has customary laws too.
- ‘Khongman’ and ‘Sidsod’ are dowrys that the guy must give to the girl and her family for the marriage to be legal.
- The Thais have also recently enacted the Prevention and Solution of Adolescent Pregnancy Problem Act.
- This act means schools must teach young children comprehensive sexual education.
But sadly as usual, no action. Talk only laa
The stats, they say, don’t lie. And the stats don’t make a pretty picture at all.
A United Nations report back in 2010 showed that there were over 82,000 Malaysian women between 15 and 19 who were already married. On top of that, in 2010 alone, almost 16,000 girls under the age of 15 were married. One notable case from 2016 involved a 14-year old girl who was raped by a man and then made to marry her rapist. This is because marital rape is not illegal here in Malaysia, which means that the rapist had attempted to marry his 14-year old victim to avoid charges.
Thailand meanwhile can’t be that proud of themselves either. A report by the World Health Organisation shows that in 2017, 4% of Thai women aged 20-24 were already married even before they turned 15, and 23% of them were married before they turned 18.
On top of that, Thailand also has some other more pressing issues that they’re addressing to: child prostitution and trafficking. The number of children involved in prostitution in Thailand range anywhere from 200,000 – 800,000, making it one of the worst offending nations in the world. For a comparison, an estimated 43,000 to 142,000 children are involved in child prostitution in Malaysia.
The laws are in place, yet the crime still happens. What else can we do?
Sometimes the right conversation can bring change
Remember the Predator in my Phone campaign by the R.AGE team of journalists? They managed to spark a conversation about child sexual predators in Malaysia and carried on with it, to the point where actual change was made! In April of 2017, the Sexual Offences Against Children Bill was passed thanks to the work carried out by R.AGE. Perhaps this scandal caused by Che Abdul Karim and his desire for a third wife can end on a positive note, with some change in our laws to remedy the issue of child marriages in our country.
Indeed, the initial steps are already being taken. Deputy Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Wan Azizah has already come out and state that the 41-year old is being investigated for the possibility of sexual grooming. Rodziah Ismail, the political secretary to the Women, Family and Community Development Minister has also added that they will be introducing strict guidelines for Syariah Courts when it comes to marriages that involve someone under 18-years old.
Let’s hope that this is the start of maybe even stricter regulations and better protection and enforcement when it comes to the safety for our children. They are girls, not brides.