No government is powerless, NGOs say on child marriage issue

Jerry Choong
Yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said Che Abdul Karim’s marriage to the 11-year old girl is valid under Kelantan’s Islamic laws. ― Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

KUALA LUMPUR, July 11 — Civil rights groups chided the government for washing their hands of the issue of child marriages, citing Islamic laws.

Sisters in Islam (SIS) and the Association of Women Lawyers expressed their outrage at that the government had no power to nullify the marriage of an 11-year old Thai Muslim girl to a 41-year old Kelantanese rubber tapper Che Abdul Karim Che Abdul Hamid recently.

“It is certainly a sad day when the government we voted for washes its hands off and rests on the argument that it is powerless. No government is powerless unless it chooses to be,” said the two groups in a joint statement.

Aside from the marriage running contrary to the Islamic perspective of prevention of harm, the groups also condemned the government for the delay in pressing charges against the man for child grooming or possibly statutory rape, per the Sexual Offences Against Children Act and the Penal Code.

“The act was enacted specifically to deal with child sexual abuse and the act of preparing a child for sex. If marriage could be used to circumvent and legalise child sexual abuse then Malaysia has failed in achieving the act’s true purpose,” it said.

The groups stated that the concept of child marriage resulted in depriving children of their childhood and continuing the cycle of poverty, with child brides facing higher death risks in childbirth, a higher degree of domestic violence, among others.

“The allegations of sexual grooming were raised in a police report lodged by children’s rights activist Hartini Zainudin that the child had been groomed (from the age of seven) over a period of years by the perpetrator.

“It is unclear if the child has undergone a full medical examination to determine if she has had sexual activity with the man. He must be held accountable and face the full force of the law, with the government not being complicit in his crime,” it said.

Yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said Che Abdul Karim’s marriage to the 11-year old girl is valid under Kelantan’s Islamic laws where those under 16 years old can marry with a Shariah Court judge’s permission, and which Putrajaya does not have the power to nullify.