M’sian MP derided for backing child marriage, saying rapists can wed victims
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M’sian MP derided for backing child marriage, saying rapists can wed victims

A MALAYSIAN lawmaker has sparked public outrage for saying there was nothing wrong with allowing rapists to marry their victims and that girls as young as nine were ready for marriage.

According to The Star OnlineShabudin Yahaya, a politician and former Syariah court judge from the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, said such marriages could “remedy” an increasing number of social problems.

The lawmaker from the northern state of Penang reportedly issued the remarks during debates on the Sexual Offences Against Children Bill 2017 in Parliament and after several opposition lawmakers suggested amending it to include child marriage as an offence.

When refuting an argument raised by opposition lawmaker Dr Siti Mariah Mahmud, Shabudin pointed out that in some cases, families of young brides-to-be consented to them marrying their partners. He also said some young girls appear older than their actual ages.

“When we discuss 12- and 15-year-olds, we don’t see their physical bodies because some children aged 12 or 15, their bodies are like 18-year-old women,” Shabudin told the Lower House on Tuesday.

He then claimed it was possible for girls as young as nine to be “physically and spiritually” ready for marriage as they have reached puberty.

“So it’s not impossible for them to get married.”

While Shabudin acknowledged that rape was a criminal offence, he said the rapists were not necessarily bad people all their lives and should be given a second chance to “turn a new leaf”. Marriage, he claimed, could be a good rehabilitative solution.

“Perhaps through marriage they can lead a healthier, better life. And the person who was raped does not necessarily have a bleak future. She will have a husband, at least, and this could serve as a remedy to growing social problems,” he was quoted as saying.

Dr Siti Mariah, however, challenged him by saying, “I don’t agree with marrying off the victim to the rapist. If the rapist repents, maybe that’s fine, but what if the husband is useless?”

Earlier, another opposition lawmaker Teo Nie Ching said such marriages ended up becoming problematic, citing two cases of victims marrying their attackers.

She related one case involving a 35-year-old man who married a 14-year-old with a disability. After marrying the victim, the man reportedly raped his 11-year-old sister-in-law and forced his wife to film him in the act.

Citing his experience as a Syariah judge, Shabudin refuted Teo’s argument, saying there were also many cases where such marriages did not lead to divorce.

SEE ALSO: Malaysia’s fractured Parliament unites over Bill against child sex crimes

“The girl becomes safer when she is married rather than when she is left alone. Don’t assume they (rapists) remain bad people,” he said.

After the heated exchange, the opposition’s call to include child marriages as an offence in the Bill was defeated by a voice vote, The Star Online reported.

Soon after the debate, netizens flooded social media with messages condemning Shabudin

His remarks were also slammed by his colleague from BN lynchpin party United Malay National Organisation (Umno). Abdul Rahman Dahlan, who is also a Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, said he was “shocked” and “disappointed” with the remarks.

“I just came across an article about the comments of Tasek Gelugor MP Datuk Shabudin Yahya in Parliament in respect of underage marriages and marriages between victims and rapists with utter shock and disappointment,” Abdul Rahman said in a statement late Tuesday evening, as reported by Malay Mail Online.

“It is abhorrent in this 21st century to suggest that a rapist — who should in the first place be prosecuted — has the means to escape legal responsibility simply by marrying his victim.”

Last year, the high-profile conviction of British national Richard Huckle who was given 22 life sentences with a minimum term of 25 years in London for offences committed in Malaysia and Cambodia drew national attention on cases of child sex abuse and paedophilia.

The charges brought against Huckle, dubbed “Britain’s worst paedophile”, mostly involved the sexual abuse of 23 impoverished children in Kuala Lumpur.

Touting himself as a pious Christian, a freelance photographer, and an English teacher, Huckle admitted to preying on the children, who were aged between six months and 12 years, over the course of nine years.

SEE ALSO: Indonesia labelled ‘paedophile paradise’ as gang rape, child sex abuse cases soar

The revelations caused angry Malaysian citizens to call for tougher laws on child predators.

The Sexual Offences Against Children Bill 2017 is being tabled in Parliament after months of campaigning for stiff penalties against offenders following reports on the prevalence of child sexual grooming cases in the Southeast Asian nation.

While Malaysian civil law sets the minimum age of marriage at 18, Human Rights Watch in January pointed out that the law is riddled with exceptions as girls 16 and older can marry with permission of their state’s chief minister.

And while Islamic law sets a 16-year minimum age for girls, there is no apparent minimum age for earlier marriages with the approval of the Shariah court.

Heather Barr Senior Researcher of HRW’s Women’s Rights Division, said these laws violate authoritative interpretations of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which Malaysia has ratified.

The United Nations considers the minimum legal marriage age 18, with exceptions granted solely under exceptional circumstances to mature children 16 or older, with a judge’s authorisation, HRW said.

More than 9,000 children younger than 18 have been married in the last five years, the government admitted in May.

Despite the government’s claims that the numbers were falling, HRW says there is no proof of this, as Malaysia is one of the few countries in Asia that do not provide annual data on child marriage to UNICEF, the UN children’s fund.

HRW said government officials have condemned cases where rapists have sought to evade prosecution through marriage. However, the group said Malaysia has yet to make marital rape a crime as in April 2016, its legislature ignored calls from rights groups to ban child marriage.