As we sit here reading this, deep in some remote kampong in the Kelantan interior, an 11-year old girl sits as her marital fate is the subject of heated debate.
Will her marriage be confirmed and therefore she be the third missus of Che Abdul Karim Che Abdul Hamid who, by all accounts is a successful 41-year old old rubber trader mature enough to be her father or public outrage lead to annulment?
The marriage was conducted in Thailand on June 18, and can be legalised under Malaysia’s Syariah laws.
We would like to protect our children from being exploited, especially if the marriage is justified in the name of Islam
The case came to light when Che Abdul Karim’s second wife sarcastically congratulated them on Facebook where she revealed the bride's age.
Until today, the investigations are still "ongoing", and on July 10, Che Abdul Karim appeared before the Gua Musang Syariah court which issued an RM1,800 fine for committing the offence of marrying a minor without prior consent from the court and for engaging in polygamy without permission from his spouse.
Minister in Charge of Islamic Affairs Datuk Mujahid Yusof Rawa said that Malaysia must end child marriages and that it is time that laws legalising such an act be axed, for it was nothing short of …"child abuse and exploitation of children for sexual pleasure".
Che Abdul Karim was reported to have told the media that he had wanted to marry the girl since she was seven years old when she came under his tutelage for Quran lessons.
The bride’s father sells scrap rubber to Che Abdul Karim while her mother works as a dishwasher in his (Che Abdul Karim’s) first wife's restaurant.
The man also had told the media that he will not consummate the marriage until she is 16 years old.
Islam protects children with care and love so they can grow and contribute to the nation's growth
Mujahid, an Islamic scholar by training, is appalled at such exploitation of poor people and said his ministry was ready to engage with all stakeholders, especially those from the Syariah Judicial Department to end this practice.
"Unfortunately, our (syariah) laws permit a girl under 16 years old to marry by getting permission. For (underage) civil law (marriage), they can get permission from the Menteri Besar."
"We would like to protect our children from being exploited, especially if the marriage is justified in the name of Islam."
"Islam protects children with care and love so they can grow and contribute to the nation's growth," said Mujahid.
He opines that this will definitely not be the first and last case in this country, as long as such laws exist to allow child marriages.
Child activist Hartini Zainuddin of Yayasan Chow Kit, said that this case is a classic example of how we always seem to make rights of the child and protection needs as secondary, even if it is detrimental to the safety and well-being of the child.
(Yayasan Chow Kit runs a day care centre for underprivileged children in and around Chow Kit, Kuala Lumpur).
Hartini refers to the complications of childbirth, sexual abuse and mental trauma a child bride goes through.
She herself has witnessed many minors giving birth, endangering their lives, emphasising that a child should never be made to go through that, just to satisfy men's lust.
"When will we ever learn? How many more cases would it take?" asks a frustrated Hartini who has been championing children's rights for decades.