Kuala Lumpur: A 14-year-old Malaysian Muslim schoolgirl has defended her controversial marriage to a 23-year-old teacher after an uproar from rights groups, a report said Sunday.
Teenager Siti Maryam Mahmod wed Abdul Manan Othman last weekend in a mass wedding at a mosque in the capital Kuala Lumpur, after being given permission in an Islamic Sharia court.
The marriage has prompted fresh debate on child marriage, with rights groups calling for the laws that allow underage marriage to be repealed, with some arguing child marriage amounts to paedophilia.
Speaking for the first time since the controversy erupted, Siti Maryam told weekly newspaper mStar that she was entitled to wed and had not been coerced.
"Marriage is the right of the individual and I am well-prepared to take up the duties of a wife," said Siti Maryam, who met her husband early this year when he was giving religious tuition to her two younger siblings.
"I have thought about the responsibilities and the consequences of marrying at a young age. At the same time, I have my mother to guide me on my marriage and my wifely duties," she added.
Siti Maryam said she and her husband have agreed to focus on completing her studies before beginning a family.
Malaysian Muslims below the age of 16 are allowed to marry as long as they obtain the permission of the religious courts. Sharia law runs in parallel with civil law in the multi-ethnic country.
Activists have said underage marriage is unacceptable, calling for law reforms to curb the practice which they said is widespread with some 16,000 Malaysian girls aged below 15 already married.
Malaysia`s law minister Nazri Aziz has rejected the calls, saying the government has no plans to review the laws because the practice is permitted under Islam.
Muslim Malays make up about 60 percent of the country`s 28 million population and on certain issues, including family law, they are subject to Islamic justice.