The apparent marriage of an 11-year-old girl to a wealthy 41-year-old Malaysian trader has sparked outrage, The Independent reported.
The girl’s Thai parents, who work on a rubber plantation, said they agreed that their daughter could become Che Abdul Karim’s third wife as long as she could remain at their home until she was 16, the newspaper reported. That brought a sharp rebuke from the United Nations children’s agency, UNICEF.
"If true, it is shocking and unacceptable," Marianne Clark-Hattingh, UNICEF's representative in Malaysia, said in a statement. “It is not in the best interest of the child.”
"Marrying an 11-year-old girl is like the behavior of a child predator or pedophile," activist Syed Azmi Alhabshi told Agence France Presse.
The legal age for marriage under civil laws in Malaysia is 18, the Independent reported. However, girls can marry at 16 with the permission of their state's chief minister. Islamic law has a minimum age limit of 16 for girls and allows even earlier marriages with the permission of a Shariah court, the Independent reported.
According to The Associated Press, photos on social media showed Karim holding the girl's hand after the marriage ceremony.
The Malaysian trader apparently has two wives. His six children range in age from 5 to 18, the Independent reported.
The Malaysian government said there were no records in the courts or the regional religious office permitting the marriage. If there was no written permission from the Shariah court the marriage would be unlawful, officials said.
"The ministry looks seriously upon underage marriage,” the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development said in a statement. “The ministry wants to discuss and cooperate with religious councils to examine and tighten laws so it can eradicate the issue of underage marriage."
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