There’s a reason for the law on statutory rape — Azmi Sharom

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Source: The Star

The goal is to protect girls who are not mature enough to make complicated decisions with far-reaching consequences.

Dr. Azmi Sharom is a law teacher in Universiti Malaya.

Dr. Azmi Sharom is a law teacher in Universiti Malaya.

DATUK Shabudin Yahaya has really caused a furore with his statements in Parliament about statutory rape.

Having read transcripts of his speech in Parliament, I came to see that some of the comments made about him are unfair. He does not condone rape, for example. But be that as it may, I have some issues about what was said.

Firstly, there seems to be confusion about the meaning of statutory rape. Statutory rape means that any sex with a girl under the age of 16 is rape.

Her consent is beside the point. I found it disturbing that in his speech there appeared to be a distinction made between rape (rogol) and consensual, albeit illicit, sex (zina).

This is missing the point totally about the law regarding statutory rape, because the whole concept of the law is that children do not have the ability to give their consent, by virtue of the fact that they are too young.

So, sex with an underage girl is rape; no matter what the circumstances.

One argument that he also seems to be making is that some girls under the age of 16 are mature. One presumes that he means mature enough to consent to sex.

Again, this misses the point. The law is there to protect as many girls as possible.

The fact of the matter is our society as a whole thinks that girls under 16 should be protected from sexual predators and are not grown up enough to make decisions as complicated and with such far-reaching consequences like choosing to have sex or not; thus we have this law and it is a strict liability law (meaning the intention of the offender and the consent of the victim is irrelevant: if the act is done, then a crime is committed. End of story).

As an example, we have laws about drink driving. There is a limit which a person can drink and drive; beyond that he is committing an offence.

It does not matter if there are a few people who can hold their liquor and drink a lot and still be able to drive (I am not condoning this at all, just making an example).

The fact is, it is deemed that most people can’t drive safely if they drink beyond a certain point, and thus the law covers everybody. This is how protective laws work.

Another point that he made which I find most concerning is the statement that girls who reach puberty are “spiritually and physically” ready for marriage. How does he know? I don’t know where this comes from, but I am guessing it is from his religious beliefs.

Look, the whole concept that people (boys and girls) can marry upon reaching puberty is a rule created 1,400 years ago in a time where people’s life expectancy was very short.

Things are different now; children stay children longer regardless if they are able to produce semen or are menstruating.

They have school to go through to prepare themselves for the future. They are not likely to die at 30 so there is no urgent need to procreate before they croak. Surely the changing times should be taken into consideration.

Finally, the thing that worried me the most is the objectifying of girls, the statement about how some young girls have bodies of women.

This is most unsettling.

Girls are girls and until they reach the age of 18 they deserve the protection afforded to children.

They are not sexual beings and should not be treated as such because they are too darn young.

This blase treatment about the safety of our girl children, to me, reflects a type of misogyny.

It commodifies and objectifies them and as such is in breach of Article 5(a) of the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which Malaysia is party to.

The article reads as follows:

States Parties shall take all appropriate measures: to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women.

Seeing as how an MP from the ruling party seems to be unable to shake off his misogynistic viewpoint (whether intentional or not) based on what appears to be his “social and cultural” patterns, it would appear that this sorry little affair just goes to show how far this Government has to go before it can begin to give women and girls the respect that they are due.