Bid to protect Muslim girls who marry
Islamic Council wants to stamp out violence
The Central Islamic Council of Thailand (CICT) is drafting a new rule aimed at better protecting Muslim girls below the age of 18 who are to wed, says a member of the Sheikhul Islam Office (SIO).
Abdullah Numsuk, executive director of the SIO's Wasatiyyah Institute for Peace and Development, said the rule stipulates that if Muslim women younger than 18 are to get married, they need approval from the CICT's panel responsible for handling women's rights.
The teen's interest must be taken into account and their marriage must have the consent of their parents, he said.
To better protect women and girls from violence, provincial Islamic committee offices must have at least one staff member who can receive complaints about violence they are subjected to, Mr Abdullah said.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) would also be encouraged to compile controversial issues in connection with women and children and send them the SIO.
According to Mr Abdullah, there is a thin line between traditional and religious practices, and some Muslims falsely claim traditional practices as religious conduct as an excuse to abuse women and children.
For example, they hold the belief that women who are raped need to be forced into marriage with their attackers, he said. In fact, rape is an offence and the suspects must be brought to justice.
Some also hold the belief that women should not enter politics and those who become members of parties are committing a sin, Mr Abdullah said. Once again, this was wrong.
Campaigns in the Muslim society must be ramped up to boost understanding against domestic violence, adding Islamic principles stipulate that the good people are the ones who treat their family members well.
He was speaking at a recent seminar on access to justice by Muslim women in the southern border provinces at the NHRC.
The new rule being ushered in follows a public outcry over the controversial marriage in June of an 11-year-old Thai girl to a 41-year-old Malaysian man.
The marriage was not recognised under Buddhist-majority Thailand's civil law but it took place under the auspices of an Islamic council in Narathiwat and her parents gave their consent.
National Human Rights Commissioner Angkhana Neelapaijit, who is a Muslim, said Muslim women are being abused in various forms in their families and communities.
They have no access to protection and come under intimidation, she said, adding some of the children were forced to wed and efforts are being made to take advantage of the kids.
The Interior Ministry should come up with new measures, including the prohibition of community rules deemed to infringe on the rights of children and women.
Amporn Marddent, liberal arts lecturer of Walailak University, urged state authorities to effectively enforce the laws against those who abuse women and children.
She said state officials and police often try to seek a compromise between conflicting parties by counting on local religious leaders.
They also tend to turn a blind eye to domestic violence, which subsequently causes violence against women to get worse, she said.
"Muslim women face discrimination in the system, which has an impact on equality," Ms Amporn said.
Deputy chairman of the Chiang Mai Islamic Committee, Suchart Setmalinee, stressed Islamic principles were sometimes found to have been misinterpreted to excuse abuse of women. "In fact, various actions are not compliant with religious principles at all," he said.
He said state and public sectors can help address the problem by empowering women to take key roles in local Islamic committees and supporting them to form assemblies to enhance their bargaining power.