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Feminism Around the World: Malaysian Rapists Marry Child Brides to Escape Prosecution

Welcome to Feminism Around the World, a weekly feature here at TMS where we focus on women’s lives and feminist concerns… around the world. TMS is a US-based website, but we think it’s important to connect with women all over the globe to applaud successes, report injustices, and amplify the conversation around solutions to gender-based inequality. We’ve written about women in other countries before, but we’d now like to make it a more consistent priority. Because “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.” – Teresa

Malaysia: Rapists Marry Child Brides to Escape Prosecution

There are two things that are very wrong in Malaysia right now. First, rape in a marriage is not illegal. So, once you get hitched, rape “ceases to exist.” Second, adult men can legally marry children. These two things working in tandem make life as a young girl in Malaysia particularly difficult.

As reported by Al Jazeera, there have been two cases of girls in their early teens being forced to marry their alleged rapists in the states of Sabah and Sarawak, where alleged rapists married girls as young as 13 or 14. In Malaysia, marriage is a state matter. Nationally, the legal age of consent for a Muslim is 16 (for non-Muslims, it’s 18). However, younger children can legally marry if they have their parents’ permission. Rapists can then take advantage of poor families by offering parents large sums of money in exchange for their permission to marry their daughters, knowing that once they are married, they will no longer be considered rapists.

In Sabah a 40-year-old man raped a 12-year-old girl in 2013 and married her after paying her parents. Eventually, he was prosecuted and jailed, but it shouldn’t have gotten that far in the first place!

In the Sarawak case, a local judge dismissed the rape charges against the man after he was told that the man and the 14-year-old girl were married. However, pressure from human rights groups caused a higher court to step in, and the man in that case will now be facing trial in September. What’s tricky about this case is that the man in question is 21, and said that the two had been in a relationship at the time of the alleged rape. He was charged with statutory rape, which is still a crime, but it is dependent on what the legal age of consent is, and is distinct from other rape charges.

A lot of these problems would be solved if, as advocacy groups have been arguing, the legal age of consent were 18 across the board, regardless of parental permissions. However, as the laws stand now, there are too many loopholes and exceptions. None of which are favorable to the young girls.

According to Shareena Sheriff, Program Manager for the advocacy group Sisters in Islam, “Our view is that the state has an obligation to protect children and this responsibility has been sorely abused. Child marriage is actually exacerbating the abuse of the children by making it legal.” She is also concerned that public support of child marriage by religious leaders and politicians exacerbates the problem.

There have been more than 9,000 child marriages in Malaysia in the past five years alone, though the numbers have decreased over the past three years thanks to activism and pressure from NGOs. While child marriage is rampant in the developing world, with 1 in 3 girls being married before she’s 18, according to a 2014 UN Population Fund report, it’s especially prevalent in Asia, where 66% of girls are married before the age of 18, and more than a third marry before age 15.

Here’s hoping that, as the man from Sarawak faces trial, that advocacy groups are able to use that opportunity to argue for more common-sense laws surrounding child marriage in the country. The lives and well-being of Malaysian girls and women are at stake.


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CANADA:Rio Olympics 2016: Penny Oleksiak, Canadian swimmer, makes a splash” (BBC, 8/12/16) (Note: We wrote about Team USA’s Simone Manuel, now read about her fellow Gold medalist and world record breaker!)

SOUTH AFRICA:South Africa rape: ‘Shocking’ levels of violence in mining area” (BBC, 8/16/16)

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Teresa Jusino (she/her) is a native New Yorker and a proud Puerto Rican, Jewish, bisexual woman with ADHD. She's been writing professionally since 2010 and was a former Mary Sue assistant editor from 2015-18. Teresa's returned to play in the TMS sandbox as a freelancer. When not writing about pop culture, she's writing screenplays and is the creator of your future favorite genre show. Teresa lives in L.A. with her brilliant wife. Her other great loves include: Star Trek, The Last of Us, anything by Brian K. Vaughan, and her Level 5 android Paladin named Lal.