KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 21 ― Guess where most of the cases of Kelantan couples crossing the border into Thailand to covertly and illegally marry without permission ― including those involving children ― come from?
Kelantan chief Syarie prosecutor Zaini Sulaiman revealed that Shariah courts in the state had since early 2018 fined 417 individuals for marrying in Thailand without obtaining the court's consent.
He said a further 258 men were also ordered to pay fines for practising polygamy in Thailand without getting the court's consent.
“These couples were married in several regions in southern Thailand, including Narathiwat.
“A majority of them were from Pasir Putih, Gua Musang and Tumpat, and they were fined up to RM1,000 each, including those who married underage girls,” he was quoted saying in an interview with local daily New Straits Times (NST) in Kota Baru, Kelantan.
According to statistics provided by the Department of Shariah Judiciary Malaysia (JKSM) to Malay Mail in July, there were 5,823 applications nationwide during the 2013-June 30, 2018 period by Muslims to the Shariah court for permission for marriages involving minors.
According to JKSM statistics, the top three states with the highest number of Muslim underage marriage applications during the same period were Sarawak (974), Kelantan (877) and Sabah (848).
It is unclear how many of these applications were approved.
In the same NST interview, Zaini said Muslim couples in Malaysia who marry in Thailand have to register their marriages with local religious departments, adding that their favourite period is the months of October to December.
“Most of these couples tied the knot in Thailand because they faced problems, such as the woman being pregnant or carrying children out of wedlock. After they marry across the border, they need to register with the local religious department.
“However, many procrastinate. They tend to register at the last minute. They normally (register their marriages with the department) on their favourite months, which are the last three months of the year,” he said.
He said these couples felt that their registrations could be done quickly during the year-end period and believed it would then allow then to register their child in January.
He said there were also men who decided to register their marriages only after their underage wives turn 16.
In Malaysia, the legal age of consent for sex is 16. Sexual intercourse with a girl below the age of 16 is categorised as rape under local laws.
Malaysia had recently been rocked by the news of two child marriage cases in Kelantan — a June case involving a 41-year-old Malaysian rubber tapper who was fined RM1,800 by the Gua Musang Lower Shariah Court for marrying an 11-year-old Thai Muslim girl without the Shariah court’s approval; and a 44-year-old father of two marrying on July 18 a 15-year-old girl with the Shariah court’s approval.
As for the latter case, NST also reported today that the 15-year-old girl from Tumpat was believed to have filed an application on July 2 at the Shariah court there to seek approval for her marriage to the 44-year-old.
Kelantan chief Syariah judge Datuk Daud Muhammad was reported saying that the Tumpat Lower Shariah Court had through checks found that the Tumpat girl was not forced into marriage with the Gua Musang man.
“After going through her application to get married, the court found that she met the conditions set by the court.
“Therefore, the court approved her application,” he was quoted saying by NST.
Deputy minister Fuziah Salleh yesterday said there are now tighter guidelines for Muslims seeking Shariah courts’ approval of child marriages that have yet to be adopted nationwide, with minister Datuk Mujahid Yusof Rawa revealed yesterday that only Shariah judges in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur were following the stricter rules.
“The marriage involving a 15-year-old girl in Tumpat, Kelantan recently occurred as the assigned judge did not follow the approved SOP,” Mujahid was quoted saying.