ALOR SETAR, Kedah: The Malaysian government will conduct a "thorough investigation" after reports that an 11-year-old girl had married a 41-year-old man from Gua Musang, Kelantan.
Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah, who is also Minister of Women and Family Development, said on Saturday (Jun 30) that she received a report on the case and had asked the country's welfare services department to meet the girl's mother and get more information.
“A thorough investigation must also be conducted because it involves the state Syariah enactment," she told reporters.
“We also have to look into why it happened. Was it caused by poverty, education, family issues or other problems?”
The man, who already has two wives and six children, is said to be the imam of a surau (prayer house) and took the 11-year-old as his third wife, the Star Online reported.
The incident surfaced after one of the 41-year-old's wives posted photographs of the girl and her husband's solemnisation ceremony online, according to The Star.
She found out about the incident after a friend showed her a photo of the man and girl.
Investigations found that the solemnisation ceremony took place in Golok, Thailand, according to Malaysia's women, family and community development ministry. The girl's parents are both Thai citizens and work in Gua Musang as rubber tappers.
"The agreement between her parents and the husband was that she would only go to live with him after she turns 16,” said the ministry.
Initial investigations found that the girl and her husband had applied for the marriage to be registered voluntarily, it added.
The ministry said it viewed the case as serious, and said that if a girl under the age of 16 was married without written consent from a Syariah Court judge, this would be considered an offence.
“To date, there are no records either in court or the Gua Musang Religious Office allowing the marriage,” said the ministry.
In an update on Monday, Wan Azizah told APTN that the marriage was not valid: "This marriage is not valid under Malaysian federal as well as state laws. In addition [a section of] the penal code states that the consent of a child under 12 years old is not consent."
"This case is still under active investigation. My officers are working with other enforcement agencies to look further into this case. This includes whether there are elements of sexual grooming, in the relationship of the man and this girl," she added.
If found guilty, the man could be jailed for up to six months, fined up to RM1,000 (US$247), or both.
The Kelantan Islamic Affairs Department said it had not received any reports about the marriage, but said it would investigate the matter as Malaysians had to get the permission of the Syariah Court as well as the underage person's parents if the girl wanting to marry was under 18.
"HE WANTED TO HELP ME AS I AM POOR": GIRL'S FATHER
Speaking to reporters on Saturday, the girl's father said that he knew her husband well and often sold scrap rubber to him.
The man had asked his permission to marry his daughter one week before Hari Raya Aidilfitri, but he initially refused, said the father.
"I told him that my daughter was not old enough to be a wife as she was only 11 years old, but the man persisted and promised to 'nikah gantung' it, so I agreed,” he said.
"Nikah gantung" refers to a marriage where the couple does not live together for a period of time fixed by both the man and woman.
“However, he promised me that he would register the marriage with the Islamic Affairs Department in Kelantan when (my daughter) ... turns 16 years of age," he said, adding that his daughter was still living with him and that the man had agreed to wait for five years before registering the marriage in Malaysia.
"The man was willing to marry my daughter because he wanted to help me as I am poor and depend on the income I get tapping rubber," he said.
His daughter told reporters that she loved the man and happy to marry him even though he was already married to two other women. She said she had a good relationship with the other wives and often went out with them.
"I accept whatever decision my parents and husband (have) made, to wait five years before we can live together, because I realise that I am only 11 years old,” she said, adding that she was not bothered what others said because she was happy with her husband.