Rights groups call for end to child marriage

Rights groups call for end to child marriage

Action sought in case of Narathiwat girl, 11

Rights activists have called on the government and Muslim leaders to take legal action against a 41-year-old Malaysian man who controversially married an 11-year-old girl from Narathiwat province and prevent such a case from happening again.

The group issued an open letter calling for an amendment to Thai law setting the minimum age of marriage at 18 years and called on the Thai government to work with Malaysian authorities to ensure laws of the two countries are compatible to prevent misuse of legal loopholes for the exploitation of children.

"Child marriage below the age of 18 is a violation of the basic human rights of children … it deprives girls and boys of the right to live their lives as a child and destroys their opportunities for education. It also presents a health risk to children," the letter reads.

It also demanded the Narathiwat governor lodge a police complaint calling for an investigation into alleged sexual assault and exploitation with regard to the 11-year-old girl and calls for the Central Islamic Council of Narathiwat to publicly clarify the illegality of the marriage and the issuance of a forged marriage certificate.

Malaysia's The Star newspaper reported the man was fined 1,800 ringgit (14,770 baht) by a Malaysian court for marrying a minor without prior consent from a Shariah court and for engaging in polygamy without permission from his spouse when he married the girl on June 18.

Anchana Heemmina, founder of Hearty Support Group, one of the groups that drafted the letter, said she understood this child case was sensitive since it involved religious sentiments and had a transnational aspect, but awareness had to be raised in Thai society and the rights of children enforced.

"We need society to be aware about child marriage and help stop it," she said.

Local religious and community organisations can help empower a community, affect behavioral change that will create new social norms that renders child marriage unacceptable, Ms Anchana said.

She said the final revised version of the letter will be mailed to the prime minister today and copies will be submitted to local government and Islamic authorities involved in the issue in person.

The letter was signed and supported by over 20 agencies and dozens of people including Hearty Support Group (Duay Jai), Women's Four-region Network (Southern Region), The Network of Civic Women for Peace (Civic Women), Asian Muslim Action Network (AMAN), among others.

The letter pointed out that the Act on Application of Islamic Law in the Provinces of Pattani, Narathiwat, Yala, and Satun, BE 2489 does not set a minimum age for marriage but instead leaves it to the discretion of courts, creating a legal loophole that permits the marriage of an underage child based on local norms and customary practices, which are a violation of the Child Protection Act, BE 2546.

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