BANGKOK – An 11-year-old child bride has returned to Thailand after widespread outcry over her marriage to a Malaysian man 30 years her senior, an official told AFP on Saturday.
Malaysian Muslims below the age of 16 are allowed to wed with the permission of religious courts but the union between the girl and the 41-year-old trader went viral on social media and reignited calls to end child marriage.
The ceremony took place in June over the border in Thailand’s Muslim-majority south in Narathiwat province, where the girl returned to Wednesday after “immense pressure from Malaysian media,” the provincial governor Suraporn Prommool said.
The 11-year-old is believed to be the trader’s third wife.
Suraporn said she is undergoing mental health counseling because of the intense level of attention.
He added that the marriage was not recognized under Buddhist-majority Thailand’s civil law but it took place under the auspices of an Islamic council in Narathiwat and that her parents gave consent.
“We cannot do anything (to annul the marriage) because they married under the religious law,” he said.
The trader, however, could face six months in jail if it is found that he did not get permission in Malaysia.
The 11-year-old was born in Thailand to parents who labor in Malaysia’s vast rubber plantations and Suraporn said she doesn’t speak Thai well.
Malaysian activists in the multiethnic and predominantly Muslim country say some 16,000 girls below the age of 15 are already married.
A representative of the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF has condemned the case as “shocking and unacceptable” and called on the new government to ban child marriage.