GEORGE TOWN: Barely days after her wedding plans were put on ice, an 11-year-old Rohingya girl has disappeared together her parents and younger sibling.
The family left their home in Taman Perai, near Butterworth, where hey had been living since being granted refugee status by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees a few years ago.
Activist K. Sudhagaran Stanley believes the family, who moved out on Sunday, may have gone into hiding to avoid the adverse publicity over the girl’s proposed marriage.
He said the family had not notified the authorities of their plans to move. “We can only suspect that they are either in Sungai Dua or Sungai Petani where they have friends,“ he said.
Stanley said the girl’s teachers had informed him that no one realized that the family had moved out of their neighbourhood.
Last Wednesday Stanley, accompanied by two police officers, managed to dissuade the girl’s father Mohammed Samir Abdul Razak, 38, from proceeding with the wedding.
The man she was to marry — 21-year-old Mahbub — also agreed to have their wedding postponed “to avoid complications with the authorities”.
Nonetheless, the girl seems set to tie the knot with Mahbub. She said she would wait until she turned 18 before getting married and that she wanted to marry Mahbub, who works in Ipoh.
It is learned that Samir had spent about RM5,000 to host a feast and an engagement ceremony that were supposed to take place last Thursday.
Stanley expressed disappointment that Samir had broken a promise to let his daughter continue with her education at a private school that is managed by a non-governmental organization.
He is one of the founders of the school that had been set up to provide basic education to the children of Rohingya refugees.
“The girl is considered to be a bright student and it would be unfair to deny her the opportunity to continue her educational pursuit,“ he said.
Neither the Welfare Services Department in Penang nor the police are available for comments on the family’s disappearance.
In an immediate response, Seri Delima assemblywoman Syerleena Abdul Rashid said the authorities needed to find a way to resolve the issue.
“At her age, the girl cannot even comprehend what it means to be married. I hope she is not being forced into the marriage,“ she said.
Kebun Bunga assemblyman Jason Ong Khan Lee said the laws in Malaysia do not encourage child marriages and the family should respect that.
“It’s very simple. They live in Malaysia so they should abide by our laws and respect our customs, culture, traditions and social ethics,“ he said.
The minimum marriageable age in Malaysia is 16 for girls and 18 for boys, but under Syariah laws, the religious authorities in certain states may grant permission for Muslim children below 16 to get married.
However, the MCA wants child marriage to be made a criminal offence for all, regardless of race or religion.
Its national youth chairman Nicole Wong Siaw Ting said it was important that the government showed its commitment to safeguarding the rights of minors.
She also urged the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry to “take immediate measures” to protect the Rohingya girl and to provide her with counselling and medical care.
She said the Inspector-General of Police should immediately initiate criminal proceedings against the groom-to-be as well as the girl’s family.