Former child bride recounts ordeal

SUBANG JAYA, Malaysia - Former child bride Jenny (not her real name) still remembers the day when her parents made her marry a man eight years her senior.

Only 12 years old then, and born into a family in Kuantan which resents girls, Jenny said her mother never bothered to advise her about marriage.

"The man approached my parents and asked to marry me. He told me about it, and when I got home, my mother said, 'You're going to be married tomorrow'," said the 52-year-old in an interview.

Though initially shocked, Jenny looked forward to leaving her family.

The fourth of seven children, she was forced to quit school at the age of nine in favour of her brothers and made to wash their clothes.

Jenny had seen the prospective groom a few times prior to wedlock, and thought that he would take good care of her, but she was wrong.

For the next eight years of married life, Jenny was repeatedly insulted and beaten by her husband.

"I had to follow whatever he said, and I was not allowed to object. He would never give me money to buy clothes," she said, adding that the birth of their son did not improve things. In fact, he beat her even when she was pregnant with her second son.

A spare parts salesman, Jenny's husband would leave the house for months without telling her, leaving her to take care of his father and younger brother.

Jenny attempted suicide once by jumping into a river with her sons, but stopped after seeing their smiles.

One day, at the age of 20, she took a bus to Singapore, leaving her children behind thinking they would be taken care of.

It is a decision she regrets to this day. Her husband took another three wives (Jenny's marriage was never registered), and one even beat her youngest child with pots and pans.

"If I knew about my rights then, I would have taken my kids with me," said Jenny, now a manager at a multinational company, bitterly.

Her youngest child tracked her down last year, and the two have been building their relationship since.

Women's rights group Empower Malaysia executive director Maria Chin Abdullah said it was not right for children to marry, even if poverty is the reason.

"I don't know if they'll have a better life, but why hurry to marry them off?

"If you have problems taking care of them, can't you give them up for adoption?" she said.

The Star reported yesterday that 1,165 child marriage applications were received last year, while a 2000 census recorded 6,800 girls married under the age of 15.