A sharia court in Malaysia’s Kelantan state fined a local man 1,800 ringgit (U.S. $446) after he pleaded guilty to two charges stemming from his recent Islamic marriage in neighboring Thailand to an 11-year-old Thai girl, local media reported Monday.
The 41-year-old man was charged with solemnizing a marriage and polygamy without obtaining the court’s permission under the Kelantan Islamic Family Law Enactment No. 6 of 2002, Malaysian online media outlet Harian Metro reported. The charges carry maximum fines of 1,000 ringgit each, or two months in prison.
News of the marriage in Narathiwat, a province just across the border in predominantly Muslim southern Thailand, angered people in both countries after it surfaced online in a Facebook post from the man’s second wife.
In Thailand, a government official said there was little it could do to annul the marriage because the couple wed under Islamic law by a local imam.
“We cannot immediately intervene because Islamic law, applied in southern provinces, allows this marriage with the parents’ consent, but Thai law doesn’t,” Kotrimah Hajiahrun, an official at the ministry of social development and human security, told BenarNews.
Officials from Thailand’s Department of Children and Youth, the Southern Border Province Administration Center and representatives from the Narathiwat Islamic Committee convened last week to discuss the case, Kotrimah said.
The department “met with parties involved to see how we can intervene or help this family. We need to make things clear. At this moment we don’t know exactly what we can do,” Kotrimah added.
Islamic committees in Narathiwat and other provinces of Thailand’s Deep South oversee matters of Islamic jurisprudence, issue marriage and divorce certificates as well as certify halal products, among other duties, but imams of local mosques operate independently of the committees, sources said.
Safiri Jeha, president of the Islamic committee in Narathiwat, said the girls’ parents played a major role in allowing the marriage to go forth.
“Islamic law allows youths age 15 and up to marry but they can be younger with parents’ consent. They can have ceremony anywhere with and Imam,” Safiri told BenarNews. “In the case of the 11-year-old girl, who had wedding at Sungai Golok, they followed the Islamic teaching and Islamic law enacted in Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat and Satun.”
On July 3, the provincial committee met to discuss the case and determined that the imam who solemnized the wedding between the Malaysian man and 11-year-old girl had not violated Islamic law, he said.
To be consummated later: Groom
Malaysia has a civil legal system and a separate Islamic (sharia) legal system. Sharia law, specifically, the Islamic Family Law (Federal Territory) Act of 1984, sets the legal age for marriage at 16 for girls and 18 for boys, allowing for exceptions with court permission. The civil law sets 18 as the minimum marriage age for both boys and girls.
Besides the age issue, Islamic family law requires a Malaysian who marries someone in another country to register the wedding with the Registrar of Muslim Marriages within six months.
Under Islamic law, a man can have four wives as long as he can provide for and maintain each of his families equally.
The groom in question defended the marriage in an online video, claiming it occurred under “nikah gantung,” a Malay term meaning that a couple is married with the understanding that it will be consummated at a later date, in this case after the girl turns 16.
“She will be under the care of her parents. Until she comes of age, we will not be together,” he said in the video.
Malaysian media identified the man as Che Abdul Karim Che Hamid.
‘An exploitation of children’
Thailand’s human rights commission, meanwhile, has challenged the marriage.
“The National Human Rights Commission is concerned that underage marriage (under 18 years of age) of a woman, a deprival of education and chance to development into adulthood, is inconsistent with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Children Protection Act,” the commission said in a statement late last week.
A human rights commissioner called for the Thai government to change the law.
“Thailand should pass a law to ban underage marriage in all cases. Underage marriage of the poor is an exploitation of children by the adult husband. It is multiple violations of children,” Angkhana Neelapaijit told BenarNews.
Under Thai civil law, a woman can marry at 20 years old without parental consent. She can also marry at age 17 provide she has her parents’ approval, as well as at age 15 through a court order, according to legal experts.
The case of the marriage of the 11-year-old Thai also led Malaysia’s deputy prime minister to call for the man and the girl to be separated, saying she had consulted with a sharia judge on the matter.
Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who also holds a portfolio as minister of women, family and community development in Malaysia’s new government, said the marriage hastened the need for action to increase the legal marriage age to 18.
The Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition that defeated the Barisan Nasional coalition in the May 9 general election, included the age increase for marriage in its party platform.
Wan Azizah said the change was needed to protect children and avoid issues of pedophilia, child exploitation and child pornography.
Mariyam Ahmad in Pattani, Thailand, contributed to this report.