A marriage between a 15-year-old Malaysian girl to a man almost three times her age drew condemnation from the United Nations Wednesday, putting fresh pressure on the Muslim-majority country to halt such unions.
The teenager became the second wife of the 44-year-old in July after an Islamic court gave permission for the pair to wed in the conservative, rural state of Kelantan, local media reported.
While the legal minimum age for marriage in Malaysia is 16, members of the country’s Muslim majority are able to wed at a younger age if religious authorities approve the marriages..
“It’s unacceptable that yet another child has got married to an elder man,” said Marianne Clark-Hattingh, Malaysia representative of UN children’s agency UNICEF, adding it was urgent to “bring legislative change to ban the practice”.
Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, whose portfolio includes women’s issues, said that welfare officers had been sent to meet the girl, reportedly one of 13 siblings, and her parents in the district of Tumpat.
She indicated that there was not much that the government can do to stop the marriages because Islamic courts have jurisdiction over the issue of marriage between Muslims. According to Malaysia’s dual-track legal system, Islamic courts can handle religious and family matters for Muslims, who make up about 60 percent of the country’s 32 million inhabitants.
The girl’s father was quoted in The Star newspaper as saying that he had agreed for his daughter to be wed as he did not want her to continue living in poverty, and insisted she was “happily married”. The young bride also indicated that she agreed to get married despite knowing the man for a short time.
“I am happy, and I will try to keep my husband happy. That is all that matters to me,” she told the paper.