The marriage of an 11-year-old girl to a man of 41 has caused uproar in Malaysia and sparked international outrage. A picture of the child holding hands with new husband Che Abdul Karim after their wedding widely circulated online was the catalyst for anger in the Muslim majority country.
The bridegroom already has two wives and six children aged between five and 18, according to local media reports.
His new bride’s impoverished parents are said to have agreed to the marriage on the proviso that she lived with them until she was 16. The groom is a scrap rubber dealer who is comparatively wealthy.
On Sunday he defended his actions, claiming that he had not eloped and had married her with permission of her family.
“I was disappointed with various criticisms and allegations made against me in the social media after I took her as my third wife,” he told The Borneo Post .
He added that he did not intend to live with the girl until she was 16 and would get a marriage certificate at that point.
UNICEF’s representative in Malaysia Marianne Clark-Hattingh said: ‘It is shocking and unacceptable and not in the best interest of the child. It is a violation of her rights.”
The minimum legal age for marriage in Malaysia under civil law is 18. However, girls can marry at 16 with the permission of their state’s chief minister, while Islamic law sets a 16-year minimum age for girls and allows even earlier marriages with the permission of the sharia court.
The Malaysian government has not record of the wedding and has launched an investigation. It is believed that the ceremony took place in Thailand.
‘The ministry looks seriously upon underage marriage… The ministry wants to discuss and cooperate with religious councils to examine and tighten laws so it can eradicate the issue of underage marriage,’ said a statement from the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development.