Lawyers for Liberty: Why was Child Bride Sent Back to Thailand?

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Lawyer describes the return of the 11-year-old child bride to Thailand from Kelantan as a shock, saying the case should be handled through Malaysia’s criminal justice system.

In a statement, Lawyers for Liberty’s (LFL) questioned why an 11-year-old Thai-born child bride was sent back to Thailand after her controversial marriage to a 41-year-old Kelantan Muslim man, questioning if this indicated Malaysia’s inability to protect her.

The statement comes following a recent report that the girl has been put under the custody of the Narathiwat provincial Social Development and Human Security, and that an interdisciplinary team comprising a social worker, a psychologist and a medical doctor had been tasked to care for her and her family.

The victim was reportedly sent back to Thailand by the Kelantan state government last Wednesday, and the man who married her will not be allowed to see her, while she undergoes mental health counselling because of the intense level of attention.

The girl was born in Thailand to parents who work in Malaysia’s vast rubber plantations but she doesn’t speak Thai well.

LFL executive director Latheefa Koya said the child’s removal from Malaysia also risks affecting investigations on the “husband” who reportedly took the girl as his third wife.

“Why is the child, being the key prosecution witness, suddenly whisked off to Thailand? Will this not jeopardise the ongoing investigations and any potential prosecution?

“Surely, the authorities here have the resources and capability to protect and counsel the child victim; whilst the criminal law takes its course against the suspect.

“Is the transfer to Thailand an indication that the DPM and the Women’s Ministry is not able to protect the child here in Malaysia?” she said in a statement today, referring to Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail who is both deputy prime minister and minister of women, family and community development.

Latheefa noted Dr Wan Azizah said earlier this month that police investigations would be concluded immediately to enable prosecution against the Kelantan man, but highlighted that there has still been no arrest or prosecution against him while the child was “stealthily sent off to Thailand”.

“Even the news of the child’s removal was not released by the DPM or her ministry, but by the Thai governor of the province where the child is located now,” Latheefa said.

Claiming that this was an “open-and-shut case”, she noted that suspect’s admission that he had wanted to take the child as his third wife since she was seven, is tantamount to paedophilia and child grooming under the Sexual Offences Act 2017, yet, he is still walking free, and even giving media interviews.

“He remains a threat not just to this child, but other vulnerable children from poor families as well. The failure to take decisive action is a signal to other potential paedophiles that they can safely operate in Malaysia,” she said.

Latheefa claimed that the act of sending off the child to Thailand is allegedly an attempt to “close the case” and get rid of the problem, but stressed that this move would not be in the public interest or in the child’s interest.

“It must be emphasised here that the crime against this child happened on Malaysian soil, and hence investigation and prosecution must take place through our criminal justice system. We have jurisdiction, and cannot just push the problem to Thailand.

“In stark contrast to the feet-dragging and confused statements coming from the Women’s Ministry, the Thais have swiftly set up an interdisciplinary team to care for the child and barred the ‘husband’ paedophile any access to the child. The efficient Thai response puts us to shame,” she said.

“It is hard to avoid the conclusion that there is no political will on the part of the minister to protect this child and bring the wrongdoer to justice,” she added.

Dr Wan Azizah has been under criticism from civil society over her handling of the Kelantan child bride case as no other action has been taken against the groom so far, apart from an RM1,800 fine for committing polygamy and marrying without court permission.

AP

But on July 31, Dr Wan Azizah said a more thorough investigation was required for the case, as the Attorney-General’s Chambers wanted more evidence to be gathered and to enable a “watertight” case.

Meanwhile, Berita Harian quoted the suspect in question – Che Abdul Karim Che Hamid, 41, saying that he was shocked to learn through media reports that his young wife and parents are back in Thailand, as he had only last week, transferred them to a rubber estate, deep in the interior of Gua Musang in Kelantan.

Che Abdul Karim also said that he was willing to accept the fact that the girl is “gone”, as it “may be the best thing for her, and her own safety”.

“Come to think of it, it’s better for my wife to be there (in Thailand), as she can learn what she is supposed to, there, compared to here, where she was insulted to the extent of me having to relocate her.

“She would also feel neglected here and cannot do anything beneficial. The Kelantan Welfare Department can also not help her because she is a foreigner,” the rubber trader was quoted saying.

The controversial marriage solemnised at a mosque in southern Thailand on June 18, sparked public outcry after the man’s second wife posted photographs of the couple on Facebook.

It was later revealed that the marriage had not received approval from Thai religious authorities.

Following the controversy, de facto Religious Affairs Minister Mujahid Yusof Rawa said the government will tighten provisions for child marriage in the syariah court and plans on drafting a new law to ban child marriage.

Syariah law allows girls under 16 and boys under 18 to marry. State syariah enactments stipulate that syariah judges must personally interview younger applicants to gauge their preparedness for marriage.

The Pakatan Harapan manifesto promised to raise the minimum age for marriage to 18 for both men and women.


Earlier reports:

Aug 12, Child Bride Being Cared for by Special Thai Team

Aug 7, Hannah Yeoh: Others Not Pulling Weight in Child Bride Case

Aug 4, ‘Angry Muslim Father’ Writes Open Letter to Wan Azizah over Child Bride Issue

Aug 2, DPM Under Scathing Attack for Inaction in Child Bride Case

Jul 30, Second Wife of Man with Child Bride Laments Family Not Provided For

Jul 18, Wan Azizah Told Not to Downplay Child Marriage Issue or Defend Culprit

Jul 17, 41-Year-Old Father of Six Wanted to Marry Child Bride Since She Was 7

Jul 9, Child Bride’s Husband Fined RM1,800