ALOR SETAR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail says the Government is taking the matter of an 11-year-old child bride seriously.
She also said this might not be an isolated case.
"Anyone who has knowledge of such marriages should report it to the nearest Welfare Department," Datuk Seri Wan Azizah told reporters.
"We must make sure there is no discrimination or coercion in this marriage, especially towards the child," she told reporters here.
Dr Wan Azizah, who is also the Women, Family and Community Development Minister, said she had received a report on the case and had instructed welfare officers to gather more details.
"Our officers have gone to the house and met with the girl's mother. We are waiting for more reports before deciding on the next course of action," she said.
Dr Wan Azizah said she was looking at the case from several aspects, such as whether poverty, education level or the family of the girl led to her getting married at such a tender age.
In Petaling Jaya, women groups and social activists lambasted the 41-year-old man for taking the girl as his third wife and called on the authorities to act.
They urged the Government to take legislative action to put an end to child marriage in the country.
The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) said this must be done by raising the marriageable age to 18.
It said Muslim-majority countries that have raised the minimum age of marriage include Algeria (19), Bangladesh (18 for women and 21 for men), Morocco (18) and Turkey (18).
"The solemnisation of the marriage, which allegedly took place in Thailand, also demonstrates loopholes in our legal system that can be taken advantage of by men to take on more wives without the consent of their wives," JAG said in a statement.
"This must also be reformed. It is appalling that this case surfaced barely days after we hosted an international conference - 'Girls Not Brides' - calling for a global ban on child marriage."
JAG comprises All Women's Action Society, Association of Women Lawyers, Justice for Sisters, Perak Women for Women, Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor, Sisters in Islam, Women's Aid Organisation and the Women's Centre for Change.
According to JAG, this marriage did not nullify the fact that sexual relations with a child below 16 years is statutory rape.
It also said that child marriage placed obstacles on a girl's formal education as there would be expectations that she should take care of the household and start a family.
JAG said the marriage violated Articles 3 and 24 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child which outlined that the interests of the child be the primary consideration in any action by the authorities.
Social activist Syed Azmi Alhabshi, who highlighted the case on Facebook, said the act was exploitation at the maximum level.
"What is the stand of the country, especially the religious authorities, on this? We cannot just let it be because the girl is not Malaysian," he said.
"In this case, the religious authorities are not in the picture yet because they allegedly got married in Thailand. What about her rights?" he asked, saying that he had spoken to one of the man's two wives, relatives and neighbours, and they were stunned as well.
He also raised concerns that many social media users actually sided with the man and blamed the two wives for embarrassing their husband.
The Women, Family and Community Development Ministry, in a statement, said there was no record in the courts or the Gua Musang Religious Office permitting the marriage.
It added it was unlawful for parents to marry off their children, who were under the legal minimum age, without written consent from a Syariah court's judge.
It is an offence under Section 40 of the Kelantan Islamic Family Law Enactment, and the individuals involved could be fined up to RM1,000 (S$338) or jailed up to six months, or both, if found guilty.