Baby love no more

IT’S enough to make anyone’s stomach churn how a 41-year-old man could take an 11-year-old child as his wife, and later proudly confess that he had wanted to marry her since she was seven.

Worse still, it’s frightening and sickening that he had the audacity to concede his wish to marry her showed it wasn’t an act of lust. His latest revelation is more revolting than the earlier news of his marriage to the underage girl in Thailand.

BH Online quoted the man from Gua Musang, Kelantan, as saying that they would have already moved in together if he only married her to satisfy himself. Instead, he has opted to wait five years for her to turn 16.

The rubber tapper and religious teacher said he was unsure what drove him to marry the girl, but claims it wasn’t spurred by desire.

“I knew Ayu since she was little because we were neighbours, and I taught her Al-Quran lessons. It was then I told myself that one day, I will take this girl as my wife, and I did so four years later,” he reportedly said.

Incredibly, he expects Malaysians to believe him when his own family members – including his first two wives – found his decision to marry a minor appalling and decided to spill the beans on him.

There is no other way – we must end child marriages. There is simply no justification for such paedophilic acts. What’s worse is, religion is being used to legitimise it.

Innocent teenage crushes are common, which is part of the growing-up process, but when it involves a married man who has two wives with an 11-year-old child, that’s an alarming story.

Shockingly, the religious authorities have their hands tied and can do little beyond imposing a fine on the man for an administrative bungle.

On July 10, the Gua Musang syariah court let him walk off with a mere RM1,800 penalty for marrying a minor without prior consent from the court and for engaging in polygamy without permission from his spouse. His marriage to the child bride in Narathiwat, Thailand, took place on June 18.

Despite national condemnation, the man has refused to give in to public pressure to annul the marriage.

His children are also stuck with the reality that they now have an 11-year-old stepmother. One can only imagine the trauma they have to endure.

His children are said to be between five and 18 years old, one of whom is even friends with the girl.

It doesn’t make sense either that Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail declared it “was not wise to prejudge the issue before all the evidence is brought together and the investigation is complete.

“The actions we take in dealing with this alleged incident of child marriage must be based on evidence. We will issue a statement on this matter only after the investigation is complete,” she reportedly said.

The man has already admitted he has been in love with the minor since she was seven. Now he has officially married the girl in Thailand. So, it is no longer an “alleged case”.

But since religious issues could come into play, things could get complicated for what would otherwise be a straightforward matter. It’s not the 1MDB case, after all.

In Malaysia, the furore gets incredibly loud when deliberating the subject of homosexuality. And in more extreme instances, some of the ill-educated aren’t even tolerant of liberals.

Yet, they seem to be disturbingly silent when it comes to child marriages. If it had involved their own children, though, they would have screamed bloody murder.

Child marriages are a gross violation of human rights as they deny girls the right to health, education and a life free from violence and exploitation, which is clearly enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and other international and regional human rights institutions.

In 2016, the then Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Rohani Abdul Karim told Batu Kawan MP Kasthuri Patto in a written reply that the number of applications for Muslim child marriages between 2005 and 2015 was 10,240. The figure for the approved applications was not provided.

The annual average of applications for Muslim child marriages recorded by the Department of Syariah Judiciary Malaysia between 2005 and 2010 is 849, while the annual average for 2011 to 2015 is 1,029, Rohani said.

Non-Muslim child marriages recorded by the National Registration Department between 2011 and September 2015 stood at 2,104 with girls aged between 16 and 18, Rohani said. Most of these teenage girls (68%, or 1,424) were married off to men aged 21 and above, while the rest (32% or 680) found themselves tying the knot with those closer to their ages of 18 to 21.

The Syariah Lawyers Association explained that “under the Syariah law, only (a) person who has attained puberty can get married. The age of puberty may differ from one person to another, though, so proof is required in any application for underage marriages.

“Of course, there are other factors that need to be considered by the court before allowing or rejecting the application,” he said, adding that requests for Muslim underage marriages are not automatically approved, needing evidence to show merit first.

Its deputy president Moeis Basri said on Malay Mail Online that Syariah courts were bound by Syariah laws, whether they are codified or otherwise. In practice, he said this means that Syariah judges will exercise their wide discretionary powers to consider all relevant factors before approving underaged marriages.

This includes examining physical signs to see if the girl has begun menstruating, and the level of maturity in both the child bride and groom-to-be.

In response to the incident, which has earned nationwide ire, the campaign #pelajarbukanpengantin (#schoolnotspouse) to end child marriages – which involves a group of non-governmental organisations and individuals – has kicked off.

Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister Hannah Yeoh, Permatang Pauh MP Nurul Izzah Anwar and Klang MP Charles Santiago are among many who have pledged their support.

In his Facebook post earlier this week, Santiago said: “It’s about time that we have open discussions on the issue of child marriage for it deprives a child of her rights and robs her off a childhood as well, not to mention the physical, sexual and emotional trauma.”

In our heart of hearts, most of us can tell right from wrong. We may not wish to speak explicitly about such matters, especially if it involves religion, but surely, we all wish to do the right thing.

We simply can’t endorse these kinds of despicable marriages, whatever the reasons may be.

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Opinion , Politics , Wong chun wai , On the Beat


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