The "marriage" of an 11-year-old Thai girl to a 41-year-old Kelantanese man, who already has two wives, rocked the nation recently
The marriage, which reportedly took place on 18 June, was approved by both the girl and her parents.
"I love Abe because he is a nice man," the girl was quoted as saying by New Straits Times (NST).
"Abe" is a Kelantanese slang for Abang, which a term also used to refer to husbands.
NST also reported the girl's 49-year-old father as saying that he was convinced by the man's promise of a more comfortable life for the family.
"My son-in-law said they would only live as husband and wife, and register their marriage in five years. That is why I accepted his proposal," the father added.
The marriage grabbed the attention of Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who stressed that the "union" is invalid
Malay Mail reported Dr. Wan Azizah as saying that the marriage is unlawful.
"The marriage is not valid and they must be separated," the Deputy Prime Minister was quoted as saying by Malay Mail.
She added that the court did not approve the underaged girl to be married off to an older man.
However, according to Kelantan deputy police chief Din Ahmad, there was no criminal element in the 11-year-old's marriage to the man 30 years older than her
Bernama reported Din as saying that the man was not arrested because the marriage was agreed upon by both parties, and there was no element of threats or coercion on the girl.
"However, the case has been handed over to the Kelantan Islamic Religious Affairs Department (JAHEAIK), and it is learned that the case is being investigated under the Islamic Family Law Enactment 2002 for marrying an underage girl," Din was quoted as saying by Bernama.
Din's statement received criticism from netizens
One netizen questioned Din if his statement meant that child marriage is legal in Malaysia.
Another netizen also stressed that it was a crime as the girl is underaged.
One netizen wrote that regardless of the marriage being a crime or not, it reflected the sort of country Malaysia is.
A commissioner of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) also wrote in a Facebook post that a 11-year-old wife is acceptable
"Even if your wife is 11 years old, it's fine. There are a lot of conditions in following the 'sunnah', not only because you're a man!" Dr. Nik Salida Suhaila wrote in a Facebook post which has since been deleted, according to Malay Mail.
"Sunnah" are practices by the Prophet Muhammad, which Muslims are encouraged to follow.
Nonetheless, Free Malaysia Today reported that after facing public backlash over her deleted Facebook post, Dr. Nik Salida Suhaila clarified that she was not supporting child marriage in that post. She added that her statement was misunderstood by the public.
The Suhakam Commissioner said she was trying to emphasise that age is not the only factor in making sure that a marriage is lawful.
"I'm clear in my position as a Suhakam Commissioner that girls 11, 12, 13, 14, and to me, even 18, are not capable of being a responsible wife," she added.
It is noted that Nik Salida had suggested in her PhD thesis for the legal age of marriage to be raised from 16 to 18.
"The ideal age for marriage should be determined not only by biological criteria but also by emotional, mental and financial aspects," she wrote in the thesis.
Previously, the 41-year-old man defended his "marriage" by saying that he had the blessing of the girl's parents
Free Malaysia Today reported that he also had acceptance from his other two wives, and will only be formalising the marriage to the girl when she turns 16.
However, his second wife was reported by The Star as contradicting the man's claim when she lodged a police report against her husband over the "marriage".
"What angers me is he married my child's friend... there is no use for this marriage to go on," she was quoted as saying by The Star.
Under the Malaysian civil law, the legal age for marriage is 18, while shariah courts are empowered to rule on Muslim marriage under 16 years old.