An 11-year-old girl whose marriage to a wealthy 41-year-old Malaysian man sparked a renewal of calls to end child marriage in the predominantly Islamic country has been removed from his custody and returned to her home country of Thailand, according to a report from The New York Times. Concerns about the safety and wellbeing of the girl, who is being identified as Ayu, had redoubled in recent days after the second wife of the girl’s new husband, Che Abdul Karim, said that he had taken the girl on a holiday to a Malaysian hill retreat. Karim, who has three wives, had previously said that he had promised not to “touch” Ayu until after she turned 16. Currently, marriages in Malaysia are permitted for girls below the age of 16 with permission from a religious court, but Malaysia’s deputy prime minister, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, has said that the attorney general’s office is investigating whether Karim violated a law passed last year that forbids the sexual grooming of children.
Ayu, who has lived in Malaysia for most of her life with her parents and doesn’t actually speak Thai, is being housed in a government facility that hires only women social workers, psychologists and doctors. Leaving aside the difficult question of whether Ayu’s parents, who subsist as rubber tappers, can afford to stay in Thailand, not everybody is convinced that the government has the girl’s best interest in mind.
“Why is the child, being the key prosecution witness, suddenly whisked off to Thailand?” asked Latheefa Koya, executive director of human rights organization Lawyers for Liberty. “Sending the child off to the Thais is surely a transparent attempt to close the case and get rid of the problem.”
“[Karim] remains a threat not just to this child but other vulnerable children from poor families, as well,” she added. “The failure to take a decisive action is a signal to potential pedophiles that they can safely operate in Malaysia.”
A previous attempt to ban child marriage outright in Malaysia failed last year, as some politicians — including a legislator and shariah court judge from the then-governing party — argued that girls as young as 9 should be eligible for marriage so long as they had gone through puberty. But according to Ismail, the new government, which took power in May, is leading a pushing to finally end the practice by raising the age of marriage to 18.
Read the full story at The New York Times.