In Malaysia, rape carries a penalty of up to 30 years in prison and whipping. To avoid this heavy punishment, a man, Ahmad Syukri Yusuf, who raped a 14-year-old girl decided to marry the young victim. This sparked calls from angry activists for legal reforms on today, Thursday, August 4th.
The 28-year-old man faced two counts of statutory rape at a court in the Malaysian state of Sarawak on Borneo island — an offense that carried a maximum penalty of 30 years in jail and whipping. The victim, now 15, was allegedly raped twice by Ahmad Syukri Yusuf, last year.
However, according to Borneo Post news website, the Judge, Afidah Abdul Rahman in her ruling last week, discharged the case after she was presented their marriage certificate in court saying:
“Since the complainant and the victim of the subject matter of this case wish to withdraw the complaint against the accused on the ground that she is now married to him, there is no necessity to proceed further with this case.”
The court’s decision was criticized severely by women’s groups who called for a legal overhaul to ban child marriage in Malaysia. According to Malaysia’s civil law, the legal minimum age for marriage is 18, and under Islamic law, it’s 16 for girls. Nevertheless, Muslim girls below the age of 16 can marry if they obtain permission from Islamic courts. Girls ages 16 to 18 are also allowed to marry with the consent of their state’s chief minister.
Tan Heang Lee, spokesperson of Women’s Aid Organisation, tells TIME:
“In effect, these laws permit and legalize statutory rape, by giving predators legalized access to the children. Children below 16 cannot consent to sex, married or not.”
Activists say such cases are common in the conservative Muslim-majority country, where sometimes victims’ families would prefer a girl marry to get married to her rapist instead of her name being tarnished in court. But this loophole in the system can give the wrong signal to others that there are no serious consequences for rape, they say.
“Over the years we have handled many such cases where the man marries the victim and then divorces her and pays some money to her family. A rape is a rape. There needs to be better education on this”, Aegile Fernandez of Tenaganita, an NGO in Malaysia, told AFP, calling the case an “injustice”.