Following the announcement of a marriage between a 41-year-old man from Malaysia's Kelantan state and an 11-year-old girl, a government official from the region attempted to turn the focus to problems he attributed to the gay community.
Writing off child marriage as "sensationalised," Mohd Amar Nik Abdullah, the deputy head of government in Kelantan, is quoted in Malay Mail as saying that sex outside of marriage, children born out of wedlock, and "gays and lesbians" are "bigger issues" facing Malaysia than child marriage.
Human Rights Watch senior researcher Neela Ghoshal countered back in a statement published on the organisation's website earlier this month, saying that the government official's comments "belittle girls' rights and reinforce homophobic views."
She also pointed to extensive research indicating that marriage for girls under age 18 leads to higher educational dropout rates, poverty and domestic violence.
Malaysia's newly elected government, headed by Mahathir Mohamed, "has an opportunity—and a responsibility—to remedy the entrenchment of state-sponsored homophobia and transphobia," Ghoshal said. She called on the administration to "publicly condemn discriminatory comments like Mohd Amar's" and to "[make it] clear that LGBT people are not an 'issue' to contend with but a group of people whose rights are entitled to be respected."