Child marriage sparks outcry, investigation in Malaysia

A marriage between a 41-year-old Malaysian Muslim man and an 11-year-old Thai girl prompted widespread outcry and calls for child brides to be banned as authorities launch an investigation.

Che Abdul Karim Che Abdul Hamid secretly married his third wife in Thailand. The marriage was only made known after one of Che Abdul Karim’s wives lodged a complaint with police. The girl in question is set to meet with Malaysian officials Monday to discuss the marriage, authorities said.

Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said the marriage was illegal because it hadn’t been approved by the Shariah court. Muslim girls under the age of 16 can wed with the consent of a Shariah court and their parents. Muslim men in Malaysia can marry four wives.

Che Abdul Karim, who is a rubber scrap dealer and an imam in a rural Malaysian village, has two wives and six children between the ages of 5 and 18. Photos on social media showed Che Abdul Karim holding the hand of his new wife. The photo had since-been deleted.

The marriage was lawful and approved by the girl’s parents, he told the Bernama news agency. He said he will wait until the girl is 16 to formalize the marriage in Malaysia.

“I know that my third wife is only 11 years old, that she does not attend school and that she has to reach the age of 16 for us to live together. [She] agrees to this too,” Che Abdul Karim told Bernama.

Officials were investigating whether the parents approved the marriage due to poverty, Wan Azizah told local media. The girl’s parents are rubber tappers who work for Che Abdul Karim, the Borneo Post reported.

Wan Azizah said the initial investigation concluded that the girl was wooed twice and that her mother told the man the girl was too young for marriage and asked for it to be consummated only when she turns 16.

“Pedophilia, child exploitation, child pornography... we must be firm on this as children are our responsibility,” Wan Azizah said.

The U.N. children agency slammed the child marriage, calling it “shocking.” The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia expressed concern that allowing child marriage in the name of religion might "provide cover for pedophiles and child sexual predators."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.