Lawyer continues grilling Wan Azizah over child marriage

Lawyers for Liberty executive director Latheefa Koya.

PETALING JAYA: Lawyers for Liberty executive director Latheefa Koya today continued to question Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail over the women, family and community development minister’s handling of the case involving an 11-year-old child bride in Kelantan, calling it “catastrophic”.

Latheefa, who is a lawyer, said Wan Azizah had presented “unacceptable and factually wrong claims” in defending her ministry’s decision to leave the child with her parents before sending her back to her birth country of Thailand.

She said Wan Azizah, who is also deputy prime minister, had claimed that the child was “well taken care of”, was “not together with the man” and was never “in immediate danger”.

“The minister also claimed she had ‘passed on’ the child to Thailand in order to ‘take care of her welfare’,” she said.

According to the child’s husband, however, he had access to the girl while she was under the jurisdiction of the women, family and community development ministry, Latheefa said.

“Wan Azizah’s claim that her officers left the child with her parents as she was not in ‘immediate danger’ is thus a deliberate misrepresentation of the real facts.

“In fact, the UK Guardian newspaper revealed over the weekend that the 41-year-old paedophile ‘husband’ had sexual relations with the child.

“Is this true? If so, it is a horrific violation of an 11-year-old child. Wan Azizah must come clean on this,” she said in a statement.

On Aug 13, Latheefa questioned the ministry’s decision to send the girl back to Thailand, saying it came as a shock as Wan Azizah had repeatedly promised that police investigations were ongoing.

In her statement today, she said it was “appalling” to speak of “passing on” the child to Thailand as she was not an object or a piece of property.

“‘Passing on’ the child to our neighbouring country was in fact an inexcusable abdication of duty by a sitting minister,” she added.

“The child lived all her life in Malaysia where her parents had also lived for 20 years. The poor girl does not even speak the Thai language.

“Yet the minister had no qualms about plucking her out of the home and environment she has known all her life and sending her off to an unfamiliar country.

“Is this Wan Azizah’s idea of ‘taking care of her welfare’?”

Given the ministry’s resources, Latheefa said, it should be capable of taking care of the girl in Malaysia.

“Surely deporting the child and her parents to Thailand is not the answer to the problem.”

She also criticised Wan Azizah for saying in an interview that the girl was “as tall as her mother” despite being only 11 years old.

“As a medical doctor, the deputy prime minister must know that although a child may show physical maturity, it does not mean that she has the mental awareness and understanding required for marriage and marital relations.

“It is excessively disturbing that Wan Azizah offers this physical maturity as a mitigating circumstance for the child’s marriage. It raises serious questions as to whether she is really committed to ending child marriages in Malaysia.”