(SKY NEWS) – An 11-year-old Thai girl who was wedded to a 41-year-old Malaysian man has been placed into care.
The child, who is receiving mental health counselling, returned home to her native Thailand from Malaysia on Wednesday after being married to a trader 30 years her senior in June.
The 11-year-old, who is believed to be the trader’s third wife, has been put under the care of the Thai government.
The girl was born in Thailand to parents who labour in Malaysia’s vast rubber plantations and it is understood she doesn’t speak Thai well.
Malaysian Muslims under the age of 16 are allowed to wed with the permission of religious courts.
News of the union between the girl and the 41-year-old trader Che Abdul Karim Che Abdul Hamid went viral and has reignited calls to end child marriage in both countries.
The girl returned to Thailand after “immense pressure from Malaysian media”, provincial governor Suraporn Prommool said.
He told reporters the marriage was not recognised under Buddhist-majority Thailand’s civil law but that it took place under an Islamic council in Narathiwat with the consent of the girl’s parents.
“We cannot do anything (to annul the marriage) because they married under the religious law,” he said.
The trader, who has been fined, could face six months in jail if it is found that he did not get permission in Malaysia.
He told Malaysia’s Bernama news agency that his marriage was lawful and had been approved by the girl’s parents.
He said he would only formalise the marriage in Malaysia when the girl turned 16 and that she would stay with her parents until then.
Around 16,000 girls below the age of 15 in multiethnic and predominantly Muslim Malaysia are already married.
But Human Rights Watch senior researcher Heather Barr said that taking into account the number of children married before reaching 18, the figure could be “much much higher”.