A bride covers her face as she waits to take her wedding vow at a mass marriage ceremony at Bahirkhand village, north of Kolkata February 8, 2015.
A bride covers her face as she waits to take her wedding vow at a mass marriage ceremony at Bahirkhand village, north of Kolkata February 8, 2015. Reuters/Rupak De Chowdhuri

The marriage of a 41-year-old Malaysian man to an 11-year-old Thai girl has sparked outrage around the world. The groom, who already has two wives and children even older than his new bride, has vowed to defend his third marriage despite harsh criticisms.

The Muslim groom, rubber scrap dealer Che Abdul Karim Che Abdul Hamid, reportedly travelled to southern Thailand to wed the child in secret last month. The girl’s parents allegedly agreed to the union on the condition that it would be a suspended marriage, or a “nikah gantung,” and he would wait until the girl turned 16 before they live together as husband and wife. The girl’s father is allegedly an employee of the groom.

In Malaysia, Muslim girls under the minimum legal age of 16 can wed with the consent of the Shariah court and their parents. The legal marrying age of non-Muslim girls in the country is 18. As for Muslim men, they can marry up to four wives. In Thailand, where the wedding reportedly took place, the minimum legal age for marriage is 17, although courts may allow younger individuals to marry if there’s an acceptable reason.

Che Abdul Karim’s third marriage was exposed by his second wife, 34, when she posted a photo of the pair on social media. “Selamat pengantin baru suamiku. Suami, 31, maduku, 11,” the caption of the picture read, which translates to: “Congratulations on your wedding, my husband, 31, his other wife, 11.”

According to local paper The Star, the second wife resorted to posting the photo on social media after her husband blocked all communication with both his wives. She has deleted the photo since it went viral. She also apparently posted that she had referred the matter to the courts, the Welfare Department, and the ustaz, or religious scholars.

The man apparently denied the marriage was real at first. He claimed the photo was doctored. He eventually admitted after the second wife pressed him further.

“I never expected this to actually happen. If he marries a woman and not a child, I can accept it. I even tried to match-make him with another woman but he declined,” the second wife was quoted by the Star as saying. “What angers me is he married my child’s friend.”

The first wife, 41, have reportedly received the pictures of the marriage solemnisation several days ago and forwarded them to the second wife.

Che Abdul Karim, who has six children aged 5 to 18, has defended his third marriage to a child, only named as Ayu. He claimed that they had the blessing of the girl’s parents, who were also present during the solemnisation ceremony at Sungai Golok, Southern Thailand, on June 18. He said they would get a proper marriage certification once she reached the age of 16.

“I was disappointed with various criticisms and allegations made against me in the social media after I took her as my third wife,” he was quoted by the Borneo Post as saying. “I am looking into this matter to pursue a legal action to clear my name from the inaccurate and malicious allegations.”

Ayu, he said, does not attend school. She has allegedly agreed to the suspended marriage. The man has also denied that his first and second wives were seeking divorce. They apparently have already begun to accept his child bride.