Thai official says child bride has returned from Malaysia

BANGKOK — An 11-year-old Thai girl who married a 41-year-old Malaysian man has been sent back to Thailand from Malaysia, a senior Thai welfare official said Friday.

The official at the Social Development and Human Security Ministry said the girl, whose situation was made public in June, has been put under the care of the ministry.

Witat Techaboon, director-general of the ministry's Department of Children and Youth, said he could not provide any other details because the topic is sensitive. The Malaysian newspaper The Star, citing a Thai social activist that it did not name, said officials of Malaysia's Kelantan state sent the girl to Thailand on Wednesday.

The case produced calls in both Malaysia and Thailand for strengthening laws against child marriage.

Rubber scrap dealer Che Abdul Karim Che Abdul Hamid is believed to have secretly married the girl — a Thai citizen who lives with her parents in Malaysia — as his third wife in Thailand. Holding a Muslim wedding ceremony in Thailand skirted Thai and Malaysian marriage laws.

Muslim girls under the minimum legal marriage age of 16 can wed with the consent of the Islamic Shariah court and their parents in Malaysia. Muslim men in Malaysia can marry four wives.

Thai law sets the minimum legal age for marriage at 17, though courts may allow marriage of younger individuals if there is an appropriate reason. The reasons, however, are not defined in the law.

Che Abdul Karim in July was fined RM1,800 ($440) by a Malaysian Shariah court for marrying a minor without its prior consent and taking an additional wife without permission from his other spouses.

He earlier told Malaysia's Bernama news agency that his marriage was lawful and had been approved by the girl's parents, who are Thai citizens who live and work in Kelantan as rubber tappers. He said he would only formalize the marriage in Malaysia when the girl turned 16 and that she would stay with her parents until then. The girl was quoted by local media as saying she loves Che Abdul Karim because he is a kind man.

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