BUTTERWORTH: Malaysian law stopped an 11-year-old Rohingya girl from being married off here, but now that she has “come of age” by her community’s standards, she is no longer allowed to continue schooling.
Her father Mohamed Somir Abdul Razak said his daughter would no longer attend school while her wedding will take place after she is older.
“We have certain beliefs, and it is considered sinful if I send her to school because it is not right for her to go out.
“Her mother will teach her religious studies at home,” said the 46-year-old building contractor yesterday.
Mohamed Somir said in his culture’s beliefs, he could marry his daughter off at her age.
“It is normal for us. It is not good to keep her at home and she should be married.
“My daughter wants to get married too as she has known the guy from young. We are family friends.
“I did not think about Malaysian law. Now that I understand and have been advised by the authorities, I will wait till she is older,” he said.
Police went to the wedding ceremony at the family’s home in Prai last Friday and convinced the father to call it off. His daughter was about to be married to a 21-year-old Rohingya man.
According to the United Nations, more than half of Rohingya girls fleeing violence in western Myanmar end up as child brides.
In the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) 2016 Report on Mixed Movements in South-East Asia, 76% of Rohingya girls in Malaysia said their marriages were arranged by their families or brokers.
Lifebridge Learning Centre director K. Sudhagaran Stanley Singh, who alerted the police about the wedding, said he hoped the girl would return to school.
Lifebridge Learning Centre is a school for Rohingya children funded by NGOs.
“I hope the Welfare Department and police can make sure they do not carry out the wedding in secret and that she returns to school,” he said yesterday.
Penang Social Welfare Department deputy director R. Chitarthany said the department sent welfare officers to check on the girl.
Since the wedding was called off, the family moved out of their house in Prai and now live in Tasek Gelugor on the mainland.
“We will advise him to send her to school but we cannot force him to do so. Earlier, the reason given for not sending her to school was the lack of transportation,” she said.
MCA Youth Chief Nicole Wong Siaw Ting called on the Ministry of Women, Family and Social Development to take immediate steps to protect the girl.
In a statement, she said the government must criminalise child marriages and not give in to state enactments that allow for children below 18 to be married.
In some states, Muslim girls under 16 are allowed to get married with the permission of a syariah judge.
“If the government continues to turn a blind eye to this, more perverts will misuse marriages to sexually exploit children, especially those from destitute homes.
“Malaysia will become a haven for paedophiles. This must be stopped!” Wong said.