Rapists in Malaysia are forcing their victims into marriage to avoid criminal charges.
Marital rape is not criminalised in Malaysia and human rights groups warn that marriage is being utilised as a way to evade prosecution for sexual assault. Even more concerning is that many victims of both rape and forced marriage are children.
Marriage under Malaysian civil law is riddled with loopholes and exceptions that are often exploited by sexual predators. Legally, the minimum age of marriage at 18, but girls aged between 16 and 18 are able to enter into marriage if they have permission from their state’s chief minister.
Sharmila Sekaran, chairperson of Voice of the Children, says there have been a number of cases in the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak where men accused of raping young girls married their alleged victims. She claims this is not a rare occurrence, but something that happens ‘too often.’
These marriages are, by law, required to be under mutual consent. However, the bride’s consent does not need to come from her and can instead be issued by her father.
Muslim women and young girls in Malaysia are afforded even less protection than the Christian population when it comes to rape and forced marriage. Islamic law sets a 16-year minimum age for girls and permits even earlier marriages, with no apparent minimum, through the permission of a Shariah court.
Marrying off underage girls who have been sexually abused has understandably created a growing resentment for the current Sharia Judiciary. The department’s senior judicial director, Mohd Nadzri Abd Rahman, said that the system “gives room for irresponsible parents to abuse this power for their own interests.”
“There was a case where a father requested to marry off his underage daughter and the court allowed it,” she says. “We later learned the father had raped his daughter and married her off to cover up his crime.”
Human Rights groups allege that the current legal system places Malaysia in direct violation of International Law. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which Malaysia has ratified, considers the minimum legal marriage age to be 18. Exceptions to this are only to be granted under exceptional circumstances, to mature children who are 16 or older, with a judge’s authorisation.
Despite international outrage, the government of Malaysia is ignoring calls from rights groups to ban child marriage. In May of 2016, the government admitted that more than 9,000 children under the age of 18 had entered into marriage in the previous five years.
Government claims that this number is falling are extremely difficult to verify. 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.