Child marriages are surprisingly not uncommon in the region, as articles from Asia News Network media illustrate. Some commentators deplore the despicable tradition. Here are excerpts:
Wong Chun Wai
The Star, Malaysia
It's enough to make anyone's stomach churn how a 41-year-old man could take an 11-year-old child as his wife, and later proudly confess that he had wanted to marry her since she was seven.
Worse still, it's frightening and sickening that he had the audacity to concede that his wish to marry her showed it wasn't an act of lust.
Berita Harian Online quoted the man from Gua Musang, Kelantan, as saying that they would have already moved in together if he married her only to satisfy himself. Instead, he has opted to wait five years for her to turn 16.
"I knew Ayu since she was little because we were neighbours, and I taught her Al-Quran lessons. It was then I told myself that one day, I would take this girl as my wife, and I did so four years later," he reportedly said.
Incredibly, he expects Malaysians to believe him when his own family members - including his first two wives - found his decision to marry a minor appalling and decided to spill the beans on him.
There is no other way - we must end child marriages.
There is simply no justification for such paedophilic acts.
What's worse is, religion is being used to legitimise it.
Innocent teenage crushes are common, which is part of the growing-up process, but when it involves a married man, who has two wives, and an 11-year-old child, that's an alarming story.
Shockingly, the religious authorities have their hands tied and can do little beyond imposing a fine on the man for an administrative bungle.
On July 10, the Gua Musang syariah court let him walk off with a mere RM1,800 (S$600) penalty for marrying a minor without prior consent from the court and for engaging in polygamy without permission from his spouse.
His marriage to the child bride in Narathiwat, Thailand, took place on June 18.
Despite national condemnation, the man has refused to give in to public pressure to annul the marriage. His children are also stuck with the reality that they now have an 11-year-old stepmother. One can only imagine the trauma they have to endure.
His children are said to be between five and 18 years old, one of whom is even friends with the girl.
It doesn't make sense either that Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail declared it "was not wise to prejudge the issue before all the evidence is brought together and the investigation is complete".
"The actions we take in dealing with this alleged incident of child marriage must be based on evidence. We will issue a statement on this matter only after the investigation is complete," she reportedly said.
The man has already admitted he has been in love with the minor since she was seven. Now, he has officially married the girl in Thailand. So it is no longer an "alleged case".
In Malaysia, the furore gets incredibly loud when deliberating the subject of homosexuality. Yet, people seem to be disturbingly silent when it comes to child marriages.
In our heart of hearts, most of us can tell right from wrong. We may not wish to speak explicitly about such matters, especially if it involves religion, but surely, we all wish to do the right thing.
We simply can't endorse these kinds of despicable marriages, whatever the reasons may be.
Woes of child brides: Tales of beatings, forced labour, sexual assault
Child marriages are still the norm in a few Asian countries. Here are some accounts:
BEATEN, SEXUALLY ASSAULTED
ISLAMABAD (Pakistan) • Nirma belongs to the Oad community, deemed one of the lowest castes in the hierarchical Hindu social structure.
She was married off by her parents about 18 years ago. She was 13 at the time. Her husband was a mere 10 years old.
Their marriage was an inter-family exchange: Her brother was married to her husband's sister.
The first four months of her marriage went by like a breeze, she said. And then there was horror. "I was made to work ceaselessly," she said.
Her duties included taking care of cattle, preparing food for the entire household of her in-laws, keeping the house clean and tidy, and washing dirty utensils.
"I had not done all these things at my home," she said.
To add to her woes, Nirma soon became pregnant.
It was around that time that her brother hit his wife.
Since everything, including torture, has to be reciprocated in exchange marriages, her in-laws urged her husband to hit her too.
"That night my in-laws, including my husband, locked me in a room, tied my hands and mercilessly beat me up," she recalled.
There were more beatings and forced labour.
Even the smallest mistakes earned her the worst types of physical and psychological abuse, which included sexual assault by her father-in-law.
She spent nearly eight years in the hell that her in-laws' house became for her.
After her brother died of liver complications caused by his addiction to alcohol, his wife went back to live with her parents.
It gave Nirma an opportunity to run away - she has been living with her parents since 2008.
PHYSICALLY ABUSED BY IN-LAWS
BAJHANG (Nepal) • Ms Laxmi Dhami of Bhatekhola, in Bajhang district, was married at the tender age of 14.
Four years into the marriage, her husband married and brought home his second wife.
Soon after, Ms Dhami's life took a turn for the worse.
"My in-laws started physically abusing me after my husband married another woman," she said, adding: "I ran to district headquarters Chainpur (in Bihar, India) fearing that they would beat me to death."
She added: "They (in-laws) threaten to kill me, saying that I have an illicit affair with someone here in Chainpur.
"They did not let me stay in the house and now I am here and they still threaten to kill me. I don't know what to do."
Ms Dhami now lives with her five-year-old daughter in Chainpur and works as a daily wage labourer to make ends meet.
THE KATHMANDU POST
'OLD VIRGIN' IF UNMARRIED BY 17
MERBABU (Indonesia) • Sulasmi, who is under 16, lives in Jerakah village between Mount Merbabu and Mount Merapi, in Boyolali, Central Java.
Last July, she had just started the last year of middle school but had to drop out after she got married.
Her husband, Hartomo, 19, who is from the neighbouring village of Klakah and has completed middle school studies, now works at a sand mine for a daily wage of 100,000 rupiah (S$9.45).
During the simple wedding reception, Sulasmi's father Sugiyono looked happy.
"There's no coercion. It was my child who wanted to get married. Moreover, it is unusual to reject a proposal. It would humiliate the other family and 'burn bridges'," he said.
Most of the villagers find nothing peculiar about Sulasmi and Hartomo's marriage.
"If there's a 17-year-old girl who has not married, she's an old virgin.
The parents feel humiliated if their daughter is labelled old virgin - unwanted.
It's a shame," said Mariman, a 60-year-old villager.
THE JAKARTA POST
• The papers are members of the Asia News Network. The stories were reported in the past few months.
The Jakarta Post
Child marriage is common in almost all geographical pockets throughout Indonesia. Rates vary widely.
According to the 2012 National Socio-economic Survey, West Sulawesi has the highest prevalence of child marriage at 37.3 per cent, followed by Central Kalimantan and Central Sulawesi at 36.7 per cent and 34.4 per cent, respectively.
Child marriage is as complex as a spider web and has been haunting the lives and futures of Indonesia's 85 million children. Ending this practice will be an uphill battle for Indonesia unless drastic changes in social behaviour are made, with stronger political commitment and the strengthening of legal frameworks in children's interests.
Many Islamic clerics say girls are ready for marriage once they start menstruating, as the Quran does not mention a specific age, while other experts cite verses that indicate that both bride and bridegroom should be mature enough and capable of judgment.
Cultural arguments include parents' embarrassment when their teenage daughters have no suitors.
Despite modern developments, including more girls having a higher level of education, around one in nine girls marries before the age of 18, making Indonesia one of the top countries in absolute numbers of child brides and the child marriage burden.
To turn a blind eye to this problem is to endorse the damaging practice.
Child marriage is not a child's responsibility. It is our responsibility.
The Kathmandu Post, Nepal
The minimum marriageable age for girls is 20 years, but more than one-third of Nepali girls get married before that age.
According to international non-governmental organisation Girls Not Brides, Nepal ranks 16th in the global child marriage index. In South Asia, Nepal has the second-highest rate of child marriage of 37 per cent after Bangladesh (59 per cent).
Child marriage has become a big challenge . Many parents still believe that if they do not marry off their daughter when she is young, it will be difficult to find the "right husband" for her, and she may end up an old maid. Furthermore, poor parents believe that early marriage can reduce the burden of dowry, as the amount is strongly associated with the groom's education, earning and family status.
Child marriage has significant ramifications on women's potential earnings and productivity. In many cases, married girls are forced to quit school to carry out household responsibilities. It also downgrades their prospects of entering the labour market.
The girls who are forced to get married at an early age often face the risk of early pregnancy and childbirth leading to death. Despite the multiple disadvantages of child marriage, the consequences are hugely understated in Nepali society.
The Daily Star, Bangladesh
In Bangladesh, one of the factors contributing to "modern slavery" is the prevalence of forced and underage marriage of women that has long been an acceptable practice.
Since the process of social change is slow and requires sustained measures over time, it is too early to prove that education and employment for women by themselves have the desirable impact on early marriage.
The National Multimedia Campaign for Ending Child Marriage, launched in July last year, is therefore a step in the right direction.
For the average underage bride, in fact for the vast majority of them, life is anything but as carefree as depicted in romantic stories.
Economic hardship or social norms limit their freedom, liberty and education.
Conservative societies or families often condemn these young newlyweds, mostly females, to many years of toil, parenthood, and servitude.
And one could even classify this condition as bondage or slavery.
Once again, to the outsider, these social mores and practices remain under the radar screen, and in the absence of trained social workers in the country, the health and welfare of the teens and young adults often remain hidden under the curtain of social taboos.
What do we do about this practice? It is expected that the strong support in our society for education will make a dent on the incidence of underage marriage.
• The View From Asia is a compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner, Asia News Network, a grouping of 23 news media.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 04, 2018, with the headline 'Forgetting the child, in the marriage'. Print Edition | Subscribe
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