A Malaysian man charged with raping a 14-year-old girl has avoided prison after marrying his victim, sparking anger from rights groups and calls for bans on child marriage.
Ahmad Syukri Yusuf, 22, faced 30 years in prison and being whipped after he was charged with statutory rape of the girl.
But he has avoided the sentence after marrying the teenager under Islamic law.
Prosecutor Ahmad Fariz Abdul Hamid said a court in Kuching, in Malaysia’s eastern state of Sarawak, ruled the case need no longer continue after a marriage certificate was produced and the girl withdrew the complaint, Reuters reports.
Under Malaysia’s civil laws, the minimum age for marriage is 18, but under Sharia law, Islamic courts can grant permission to Muslims under 16, allowing them to marry as children.
The ruling has prompted outrage from women’s rights groups.
Speaking to Reuters, Kuala Lumpur-based Women's Aid Organization spokeswoman Tan Heang Lee said: “It is very common for rapists to marry their survivors, especially when they are underage, to cover up their crime,“
“There is usually a high risk in this kind of cases that these girls will be subject to a lifetime of sexual abuse. Her marriage is basically an extension to rape,” she added.
Ann Teo, vice-president of the Kuching-based Sarawak Women for Women Society, said those who have been charged with rape must be prevented from marrying their victims.
“It sends a message a person will be freed from his charge if he enters into this kind of marriage of convenience with the girl,” Ms Teo said.
A 2010 United Nations report (the last year available), estimated that 82,000 married women in Malaysia were girls aged 15 – 19. The same year, the country’s deputy minister for women revealed that almost 16,000 girls below the age of 15 were married.
Though the data is sparse, the problem appears to be on the rise in some parts of Malaysia. In the state of Kedah in northwest Malaysia, underage marriage applications rose by 35 per cent in the two years to 2010, with 90 per cent of those for marriages for girls younger than 16, according to international organisation Girls Not Brides.
The organisation estimates that 15 million girls a year are married before the age of 18 worldwide.
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