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Outrage after Malaysian MP condones rapists marrying their victims

Sydney Morning Herald - April 6, 2017

Lindsay Murdoch, Bangkok A member of Malaysia's ruling coalition has sparked outrage in his majority Muslim nation by saying girls as young as nine are "physically and spiritually" ready for marriage.

Shabudin Yahaya also told Parliament there was "nothing wrong" with a rape victim marrying her rapist because she would then not face a "bleak future".

The comments came as MPs passed a law on sexual offences against children without banning child marriage.

"They reach puberty at the age of nine or 12," Mr Shabudin said during a debate on the law. "And at that time, their body is already akin to them being 18 years old. So physically and spiritually, it is not a barrier for the girl to marry."

As social media posts widely condemned the remarks, Mr Shabudin claimed his comments were taken out of context, insisting marriage was not a "back door to legalise rape".

But he said he opposed banning child marriages because they were contrary to provisions in Islamic law, which allows children younger than 16 to be married if sharia courts allow it.

Mr Shabudin, a former sharia court judge, denied he told parliament that a female rape victim must marry her rapist.

"But if [the marriage happens] we may never know, this is the power of God perhaps the woman and man are remorseful, repents, or he proposes that he marry the woman there shouldn't be objections," he said.

"If the woman is 16 and above, she can decide for herself. If she is below 16, the family and the [sharia] court can decide for her."

Mr Shabudin said that in a case where a child becomes pregnant, "we can't say you guys can't get married because the law forbids it". "What happens to this couple? They don't have a problem with each other. That's why Islamic law allows for such couples to get married."

Malaysia's civil law sets the minimum age of marriage at 18 but those over 16 can be married with the permission of their state's chief minister.

The new law, which was passed on Tuesday, made no mention of child marriage. It criminalises touching and befriending children as a prelude to sexual abuses.

Under the law those making, possessing or distributing child pornography involving those under the age of 18 could face up to 30 years' jail and six strokes of the whip. A special court will be set up to deal with child sexual abuse cases.

Reuters reported last year that most complaints of child sexual abuse in Malaysia do not lead to successful prosecutions, largely because of weaknesses in the criminal justice system. Only 140 of 12,987 cases of child sexual abuse reported to police between 2012 and July 2016 resulted in convictions.

Opposition MP Teo Nie Ching, who tried to have the new law include a ban on child marriage, said the law was now "more stringent but not enough". She said offenders would use the absence of a ban on child marriages to get away with their crimes, as marital rape is not a crime in Malaysia.

There have been several cases of rapists marrying their victims, including those under the age of 18, to avoid prosecution.

In March, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said the multi-ethnic ruling Barisan Nasional coalition would not table legislation to extend the powers of Islamic courts because of disagreement among its leaders.

The move was seen as appeasing non-Muslim voters before general elections widely expected to be called this year. The opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) said at the time it would try to present the legislation for debate in parliament, even without the government's support. (With Reuters)

Source: http://www.smh.com.au/world/outrage-after-malaysian-mp-condones-rapists-marrying-their-victims-20170406-gves82.html.

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