Man in child marriage row being probed for ‘sexual grooming’

Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail says she has ordered her officials to look into the possibility of increasing the minimum age for marriage to 18 years old. (Bernama pic)

PUTRAJAYA: The 41-year-old Malaysian man who is alleged to have married an 11-year-old girl is now being investigated for sexual grooming, said Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.

Sexual grooming is an offence under the Sexual Offences Against Children Act 2017.

Wan Azizah, who is also women, family and community development minister, said the government viewed the couple as not being married as long as no evidence was presented.

Speaking to reporters at a gathering with the ministry’s target groups, Wan Azizah said the man was responsible for proving the validity of the marriage to the authorities.

“The interaction between the man and the child is subject to several laws concerning protection of children. At the moment, the investigations into the case are on-going. My officers are working with various enforcement agencies and the ministries concerned to look at the case closely,” she said.

Dr Wan Azizah said the government wants to protect the child concerned and would provide medical aid and professional counselling to help her handle the situation even though she is a Thai national as all children living in Kelantan must be protected.

She said the officers handling the case had met the child and the man’s second wife who filed the complaint. However, they had not met the man.

“The child’s mother is a worker in a restaurant owned by the man’s first wife and he had promised to ‘look after’ the family financially. The child has only gone to nursery school. According to the parents, the man will only consummate the marriage five years from now, but the child must go through some tests,” Wan Azizah said.

“The government is very committed to tackling the issue of child marriages in the future. I have instructed my officers to look into increasing the minimum age (for marriage) to 18 years for men and women,” she added.

News of the 41-year-old Malaysian man’s third marriage to an 11-year-old Thai girl went viral on the social media on Saturday, leading to the Welfare Services Department investigating the matter.

Wan Azizah said she held a meeting with officials from the Attorney-General’s Chambers, the Kelantan Islamic Religious Affairs Department (JAHEIK), the Syariah Judiciary Department, the Malaysian Bar Council, social activist Syed Azmi Alhabshi and officers of child agencies in Putrajaya and Kelantan.

“The meeting was informed that the couple was living in Kelantan. However, JAHEIK was reported to have no record of the marriage’s registration. According to reports and a statement from the man’s second wife, it is believed that the marriage took place in Golok, Thailand,” she said.

Wan Azizah said to date, the authorities still did not have any proof that the marriage was conducted in Golok as claimed. Under the Islamic Family Enactment enforced in all states, the minimum age (for marriage) for men is 18 years while for women, it is 16 years. Underaged marriages are only allowed with the consent of the court, chief minister or menteri besar.

“So far, there has been no application for consent made by the couple or the child’s parents so no approval has been given to allow the marriage,” Wan Azizah said.

She urged all parties, including the media and netizens, to allow the authorities concerned space to deal with the situation and not spread the photographs and information especially about the girl so as not to jeopardise the investigations.

Meanwhile in Kota Bharu, Kelantan mufti Mohamad Shukri Mohamad said the case should be referred to the Shariah Court.

He said it was not easy to say whether the marriage was valid or not and the matter should be investigated by the Shariah Court.

In Kuala Lumpur, president of the Asean Traders Association Moehamad Izat Emir said poverty should not be an excuse or quick solutions for the family to marry off their underaged daughter.

He said the marriage contravened the basic rights of the child and gave a negative perception to the public.

“We urge that the marriageable age for women be immediately increased from 16 to 18 years,” he said.

In Gua Musang, chairman of the Kelantan Welfare, Family and Women Development Committee Mumtaz Md Nawi said the authorities concerned – the Welfare Services Department, the Kelantan Islamic Affairs Department, the Kelantan Council of the Religion of Islam and Malay Custom, and the police – were still investigating the case.