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Malaysian authorities are investigating whether a marriage between a 41-year-old man and an 11-year-old Thai girl is legal.

I say “investigating” because there’s a chance the marriage could actually be valid. That’s because, in Malaysia, Muslims under 16 years old are allowed to marry adults… if they obtain proper permission from a religious court.

Still, many Muslims and child advocates are protesting the relationship because the marriage may not have been done properly.

… the country’s women and families ministry said there was no record of religious authorities approving the union, which took place last month across the border in Thailand’s largely Muslim far south.

Our officers have gone to the house and met the girl’s mother. We are waiting for more reports before deciding on the next course of action,” deputy prime minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail was quoted as saying by the Sunday Star newspaper.

The 41-year-old husband could be jailed for six months if he married without permission.

So they might prosecute the man in this case, but if they do, it’ll only be because he didn’t follow the rules correctly, not because he tried marrying a child. That, for some reason, is fine under religious law. (Also, six months for unlawfully marrying an 11-year-old girl? That is ridiculous.)

Thankfully, some activists are speaking up. And many are protesting child marriage in general, which is a typical practice in the region.

Some 16,000 Malaysian girls below the age of 15 are already married, advocates claim.

Marrying a 11-year-old girl is like the behaviour of a child predator or paedophile,” child activist Syed Azmi Alhabshi said.

Mr Alhabshi said the man was a prosperous trader and already married to two women while the girl’s parents were impoverished rubber farmers.

It’s a fairly typical case of a wealthy man taking advantage of a poor family in order to sexually abuse a child. It’s not like the behavior of a child predator. It is exactly that.

This is all taking place in a nation where Muslim men are allowed to have up to four wives altogether. So changing the child marriage laws will still leave other disturbing ones in place. But that doesn’t mean activists should’t speak out against this consent-less, faith-based relationship.

(Image via Shutterstock)