“When the facilitators come to the houses, they don’t ask the fathers directly – they will say things like, ‘Do you have any lambs or baby goats you are selling?’
“Everyone understands what that means: it means they are looking for a virgin to marry. And then an arrangement will be made between the girl’s father and the facilitator. The girl has no say.”
Those were the words by Amal Lateh, a girl who was forced into marriage at 15-year-old to a relative 10 years her senior. The southern Thai resident related her accounts to The Guardian in a report that demystified the taboo subject of child marriage around the border of Thailand and Malaysia.
Lateh said the girls there who weren’t married by the age of 16 would lose their desirability as no one would want to marry a girl after that age.
Another victim, Suranya Litae, also shared her horrific accounts with the British daily. She was married at the age of 15 to a man 16 years older. Caressing her now 7-year-old son Afdon, she said she dreamed to become a teacher but it didn’t come true because of the marriage.
“I didn’t want to be married. I cried so much, and I wanted so much to run away.
“But my family needed the money from my dowry to build a house. At that time I felt so sad because getting married meant I had to abandon my studies,” lamented Litae.
The report by The Guardian published three days ago (Sept 1) came after the furore of 41-year-old Che Abdul Karim Che Hamid (Malaysian) marrying 11-year-old Ayu (Thai residing in Kelantan) back in June. In a bid to shed some light on the issue, it revealed the political aspect of the conundrum, the stigma, the prevalence, the history, the legal loophole and the religion surrounding the cross-border child marriage of the two countries. To sum it up, we have put it into these 8 points:
1. CHE ABDUL DIDN’T KEEP HIS PROMISE OF NOT having SEX WITH AYU
The Kelantanese businessman who took Ayu’s hand promised not to have any sexual relations with his child bride but according to the report, the medical tests were said to show otherwise.
Hashim Yusoff, the iman that married the couple, said the marriage was sah (legitimate) as Ayu was already “mature.” Hashim made Che Abdul, who was also an iman himself, to pledge not to have sexual relations with his young wife but sadly, the promise was allegedly broken.
It’s also previously reported that Ayu would reside at a different home from Che Abdul in Kelantan but she had returned to Thailand recently.
2. THERE WAS NO CHILD MARRIAGE LAW FOR ISLAM COMMUNITY IN THAILAND
In Malaysia with stipulated Shariah laws at both federal and state level, marrying a child was a lengthy process that would sometimes take over a year to get approval. However, there were no such regulations in Thailand.
So much so that it had turned into a business opportunity for the southern Thai imans who charged four times more on visiting Malaysians than the locals to conduct child marriages.
Mohammad Lazim told the daily that he ran a business to cater service to connect Thai brides with Malaysian men. He match-made about 50 couples a year, mainly for men wanting a second or third wife. However, he clarified that he had never kindle marriages of underage children. He said his business was comparatively small as of others.
“People come from all over Malaysia to do this,” he said. “Business is booming: instead of applying to a sharia court in Malaysia and answering all their difficult questions – a process that takes sometimes a year – the shortcut is to come to Thailand. Here, there is no law.”
3. MARRYING AYU ONLY COST 4,500 BAHT AND NO LEGAL COMPLICATION
As a result of the aforementioned, Che Abdul was able to marry Ayu without any complication other than paying 4,500 baht (about RM570). He was eventually fined by Malaysian Shariah court for RM1,800 which he pleaded guilty for practising polygamy and conducting the marriage without the court’s permission. The light sentence had upset rakyat nationwide as well as people from all over the globe.
4. THAI GOVERNMENT WAS IGNORANT OF THE ISSUE
In Thailand, the legal marriage age set at 17 and having sexual intercourse with a minor was a punishable offence. However, when it came to Muslim marriages in its southern provinces such as Narathiwat, Pattani and Yalla, a legal loophole allowed Muslims to practise Islamic laws in the dealings of family matters.
Such a system opened the gate to child marriage. The Islamic laws didn’t stipulate a minimum age but it’s culturally understood that a girl could marry as soon as she started menstruating. This had caused child marriage to prevail in the community and it’s even used as a solution to rape and underage pregnancy.
Thai children’s rights activist Anchana Heemmina said the loophole gave birth to the booming market of cross-border marriage.
“The biggest problem with child marriage in Thailand is that nobody wants to talk about it – not the Islamic council, not the imams and not the government. It has always been swept under the rug, and that’s where they want it to stay,” said another activist, Wannakanok Pohitaedaoh, who ran a children’s shelter in Narathiwat and was once forced into a violent marriage.