The marriage of the 11-year-old Thai girl to a man 30 years her senior in Kelantan should be handled through Malaysia's criminal justice system and not be "pushed" to Thailand, said Lawyers for Liberty, today.
In a statement, its executive director Latheefa Koya said taking the child, who is a key prosecution witness, to Thailand now would jeopardise ongoing investigations and deter any potential prosecution.
The statement comes following a recent report in The Star that the girl has been put under the custody of the Narathiwat provincial Social Development and Human Security Ministry, and that an interdisciplinary team comprising a social worker, a psychologist and a medical doctor had been tasked to care for her and her family.
The victim was reportedly sent back to Thailand by the Kelantan state government last Wednesday, and the man who married her will not be allowed to see her, while she undergoes physical and mental checks.
In the statement, Latheefa questioned the logic behind sending the girl back to her country at this juncture, while her "pervert husband" is still at large.
"Surely, the authorities here have the resources and capability to protect and counsel the child victim, while the criminal law takes its course against the suspect.
"Is the transfer to Thailand an indication that the DPM and the Women's Family is not able to protect the child here in Malaysia?" she asked, in reference to Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who is the deputy prime minister and also holds the Women's, Family and Community Development portfolio.
The Women's ministry has thus far said that the matter is best left for the police to investigate, and maintained that the child's marriage to the man is permitted under syariah law.
'Why is the culprit still unpunished?'
Latheefa noted that suspect's admission that he had considered taking the child as his third wife since she was seven, is tantamount to paedophilia and child grooming under the Sexual Offences Act 2017, but yet, he is still walking free, and even giving media interviews.
"He remains a threat not just to this child, but other vulnerable children from poor families as well. The failure to take decisive action is a signal to other potential paedophiles that they can safely operate in Malaysia.
"It must be emphasised here that the crime against this child happened on Malaysian soil, and hence investigation and prosecution must take place through our criminal justice system. We have jurisdiction, and cannot just push the problem to Thailand," she said, adding that the Thai authorities' swift response to the matter puts Malaysia to shame.
Latheefa further claimed that sending back the child to Thailand was an attempt to "close the case" and get rid of the problem, and reiterated that the government has no political will to protect the child and bring a closure to the case.
'Shocked to learn wife's gone'
Meanwhile, Berita Harian quoted the suspect in question, Che Abdul Karim Che Hamid, 41, as saying that he was shocked to learn through media reports that his young wife and parents are back in Thailand, as he had only last week, transferred them to a rubber estate, deep in the interior of Gua Musang in Kelantan.
Che Abdul Karim also said that he was willing to accept the fact that the girl is "gone", as it "may be the best thing for her, and her own safety".
"Come to think of it, it's better for my wife to be there (in Thailand), as she can learn what she is supposed to there, compared to here, where she was insulted to the extent that I had to relocate her (for her protection).
"She would also feel neglected here and would not be able to do anything beneficial. The Kelantan Welfare Department also cannot help her because she is a foreigner," the rubber trader was quoted saying.
The controversial marriage solemnised at a mosque in southern Thailand on June 18, sparked public outcry after the man's second wife posted photographs of the couple on Facebook.
It was later revealed that the marriage had not received approval from Thai religious authorities. Che Abdul Karim was later fined RM1,800 by the Gua Musang Lower Syariah Court for marrying without obtaining approval and for entering into a polygamous marriage without consent.
Following the controversy, de facto Religious Affairs Minister Mujahid Yusof Rawa said the government will tighten provisions for child marriage in the syariah court and plans on drafting a new law to ban child marriage.
Syariah law allows girls under 16 and boys under 18 to marry. State syariah enactments stipulate that syariah judges must personally interview younger applicants to gauge their preparedness for marriage.
The Pakatan Harapan manifesto had promised to raise the minimum age for marriage to 18 for both men and women.