KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia should urgently reform the law to better protect rape victims and disallow child marriages, Human Rights Watch (HRW) says.
This is to prevent rapists from offering to marry their victims to escape punishment.
Noting that survivors of rape often say they are left with devastating, sometimes lifelong, trauma., HRW asks: “Imagine how much worse this pain would be if you were forced to marry your rapist and share a home and bed with him.”
HRW says local organisations have documented cases where men who raped underage girls – in one case a girl of 12 – have attempted to evade criminal charges by marrying the girl.
They are able to do this, it says in an article on its website, because marital rape is not a crime in Malaysia.
Although men who marry their victim can still be prosecuted for rape committed before the marriage, and this has happened in a few cases, the law makes it easier for rape to be swept under the carpet through marriage, it notes.
“This escape route is even used by those who rape children, as child marriage is also permitted.”
One example of men seeking marriage as an escape route took place in Sarawak last year.
Last August, several newspapers and portals reported that the Kuching Sessions Court had granted Ahmad Syukri Yusuf, 28, accused of committing statutory rape on a girl twice, a discharge not amounting to acquittal, because he had married the victim. The girl was 14 at the time of the rape. However, the High Court later reinstated the statutory rape case.
Acknowledging that Malaysian civil law sets the minimum age of marriage at 18, HRW says the law, however, was riddled with exceptions.
It notes that girls 16 and older can marry with the permission of their state’s chief minister and that shariah law, which has a 16-year minimum age for girls, permits even earlier marriages for Muslims, provided they get the permission of the Shariah Court.
HRW says: “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 says the Malaysian government has resisted making marital rape a crime, and that in April 2016, parliament ignored calls from rights groups to ban child marriage.
“In May, the government admitted that more than 9,000 children married in the previous five years were younger than 18. The government claimed this number is falling, but there is no proof of this, as Malaysia is one of the few countries in Asia that does not provide annual data on child marriage to Unicef, the UN children’s fund.
“Malaysia’s girls and women deserve protection from both rape and child marriage. The government and the legislature should urgently reform the law to end these terrible practices,” HRW concluded.
In an article last August entitled “Malaysia’s child brides”, HRW had highlighted several cases of rapists wanting to mary or marrying their victims and the concerns of Malaysian activists.