Thailand will raise the minimum age for Muslims to marry without parental consent from 15 to 17 – effective Friday – following an international outcry over the wedding of an 11-year-old girl in June, officials said Wednesday.
Wisoot Binlatah, director of the southern office of the Sheikhul Islam, the body that oversees Islamic matters in predominantly Buddhist Thailand, said its top leader, Aziz Phitakkumpon, had endorsed the Islamic Committee of Thailand’s call to increase the minimum age for Muslims to marry.
“Sheikhul Islam signed the Regulations of the Central Islamic Council of Thailand regarding person(s) under the age of 17 in 2018 and officials will announce nationwide at every mosque to all religious leaders to acknowledge and put in use effective Dec. 14,” Wisoot told BenarNews.
To protect the rights of children, the Islamic Committee appointed a set of sub-committees, which must include at least one woman who is knowledgeable in Islam.
The endorsement will allow for younger Muslims to marry if they have parental or court approval, Wisoot said.
The government in the Thai Deep South, which is predominantly Muslim, is getting involved in the effort.
“The SBPAC will translate the regulations into Bahasa Malay and propose organizing a seminar on human rights for women and children in the Deep South provinces to promote this delightful practice,” Panadda Isho, legal specialist of Southern Border Provinces Administrative Center (SBPAC), told BenarNews. “The regulations will be applied throughout the country as well.”
Under Thai law, a woman can marry at 20 without parental consent but can marry at 17 with her parents’ approval or at 15 through court order, according to legal experts. The four provinces in the Muslim-dominated Deep South are exempt from the law and follow the sharia court.
Earlier this year, a sharia court in Malaysia’s Kelantan state fined a man 1,800 ringgit (U.S. $446) after he pleaded guilty to two charges stemming from his Islamic marriage in southern Thailand to an 11-year-old Thai girl, local media reported in July.
The 41-year-old man, who was already married to another woman, was charged with solemnizing a marriage and polygamy without obtaining the court’s permission under Malaysia’s Kelantan Islamic Family Law, Malaysian media outlet reported at the time.
Thailand’s human rights commission challenged the marriage and its commissioner called for the Thai government to change the law.
“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.
“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,” human rights commissioner Angkhana Neelapaijit told BenarNews in July.
“Mostly girls, when they are in their teens, their families will rush to arrange a marriage, especially families with difficult situations, they want their daughters to marry to reduce their burden,” she said.
Child bride speaks out
Gaya, who asked that her last name not be used, told BenarNews about her experience.
“I had an arranged marriage by my family when I was 15, but that did not last long,” she said. “So I fortunately did not have children, so I could go back to school and work at the same time, though I could not finish school because my family arranged another marriage for me, and I could not do anything but to follow.
“I feel good and agree with this new regulation. I believe about 80 percent of children ages 14 to 16 are unwilling to marry and have the same feeling I had,” Gaya said.
SBPAC legal specialist Panadda Isho said the new regulation will be effective on the day it is endorsed by the Sheikhul Islam (the nation’s Islamic leader), adding that it allowed for some loopholes.
“A person under the age of 17 can marry with a written court order or a written parental consent which is recorded at the Provincial Islamic Committee Office where the parent(s) want to marry their child or at the police station in that area,” Panadda told BenarNews.
Marriage is subject to the supervision of the Islamic Provincial Committee or the Islamic Committee of the mosque and the authorized person who performs marriage under Islamic Law.
“I know they have changed the regulations. It is a progress of the Sheikhul Islam Office to protect the right of the girls who will have a premature marriage. Because it is concerned about reproductive health, and for children to receive appropriate education so they can take care of themselves and their children when they are ready,” human rights commissioner Angkhana told BenarNews.