Will MPs table a motion on child marriage?

The 41-year-old rubber tapper, Che Abdul Karim Che Abdul Hamid, whose marriage to 11-year-old Masaryu Mat Rashid shocked the world, is now threatening to sue his critics.

How does a rubber tapper who has two other wives and presumably some children have enough money to support his wives equally, and still have money left over to take legal action against those who label him a paedophile? Does he live off his wives’ income?

Che Abdul Karim, who married the girl last month, claimed he had the blessing of her parents. Masaryu is a Thai national living in Kelantan. One wonders if the right education would have helped inform her parents that they were sentencing their child to a bleak future.

An Islamic education alone is insufficient in 21st century Malaysia. Worldly matters are also important.

We do not know the economic circumstances of her parents. Perhaps they hoped that their daughter’s marriage would help them out of an economic bind.

The rubber tapper said he would only formalise his marriage by applying for a marriage certificate after five years, when his “wife” turns 16 – the marital age allowed by Malaysian shariah laws.

We cannot expect a little girl to know her rights, but her parents appear to be clueless as well. What will happen if the child decides, when she grows up, that she would like to spread her wings, leave her village, go to college, and work in the city? Would her husband allow this?

Che Abdul Karim is essentially treating the 11-year-old like an object that he can “book” or “reserve” for now, for collection at a future date. But this young girl is a human being with feelings, needs and aspirations.

Even when a person makes a downpayment for a car, with a view to purchase it, the buyer must satisfy the requirements for buying the product. For instance, he or she must be old enough to drive, and possess a driving licence.

Child marriages are not restricted to Muslims. They are a common phenomenon in the rubber estates of Negeri Sembilan, where 12-year-old girls are married off with or without their parents’ consent.

According to the 2000 census, 11,400 children below the age of 15 were married – 6,800 girls and 4,600 boys.

Of the 6,800 girls, 2,450 (36%) were Malay, 1,550 (22.8%) non-Malay Bumiputera, 1,600 (23.2%) Chinese, 600 (9%) Indian and 600 (9%) other races.

Child marriages inflict a tremendous physical and emotional toll on young girls. Many are married off because of poverty, tradition and family pressure. They are deprived of their basic right to an education. Pregnancy at a young age almost always creates health risks.

Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail is the mother of four grown-up daughters, and a grandmother as well. She should lead the charge to ban child marriages in Malaysia.

Social activists, God-fearing citizens and responsible politicians must also demand stronger action against what has been labelled as state-sanctioned paedophilia.

Our ministers and MPs should table a special motion in Parliament to debate this issue. Loopholes in the law should be plugged. The legalised abuse of children should be stopped.

Or is Parliament impotent when it comes to the rights of women and children?

Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.