HRW calls Malaysia to tackle child rape 

Malaysia’s courts are being called on to toughen stance on child rape. Source: Flickr

Human Rights Watch (HRW) says there are documented cases of men who raped girls, one as young as 12, and attempting to evade criminal charges by marrying them.

One example of men seeking marriage as an escape route took place in Sarawak last year. Last August, Malaysia’s media reported that the Kuching Sessions Court granted Ahmad Syukri Yusuf, 28, who was accused of committing statutory rape on a girl twice, a discharge not amounting to acquittal, because he had married the girl. The child was 14 when she was raped. The High Court later reinstated the statutory rape case.

Marital rape is not a crime in Malaysia, although under the law rapists who marry their victim can still be prosecuted for rape committed before the marriage, a wedding normally allows the charges to be dropped.

Malaysian law sets the minimum age of marriage at 18, but there are many legal exceptions. Sixteen-year-olds and older can marry with the permission of the chief minister in their state. Islamic law has 16-year minimum age for girls but can allow much younger exceptions with the permission of the Syariah court, Malaysia’s Sharia institution.

Malaysia has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which outlaws such practices.

New York-based HRW said Malaysia had resisted calls to make marital rape a crime, and last April the parliament ignored calls to ban child marriage. In May, it admitted that more than 9,000 under-18s were married in the last five years.

“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,” HRW said.

“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.”

The NGO has been openly critical of the Malaysian government this month, accusing it of undermining human rights.

“The Malaysian government has responded to corruption allegations by throwing respect for rights out the window,” said Phil Robertson, HRW deputy Asia director. “By bringing a slew of prosecutions against those expressing dissenting views or peacefully protesting, the government is seriously undermining democratic institutions and the rights of all Malaysian citizens.”