Rights activists in Malaysia are furious following reports that an accused rapist avoided jail after he married his 15-year-old alleged victim, local media reported.
Ahmad Syukri Yusuf, 28, faced two counts of statutory rape at a court in the Sarawak town of Kuching — an offense that carried a maximum penalty of 20 years in jail and whipping. The girl was 14 when the alleged offenses were committed.
Judge Afidah Abdul Rahman discharged the case after she was presented their marriage certificate in court.
“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 judge said in her ruling last week, as reported by the Borneo Post.
Women’s groups slammed the court’s decision and 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. However, 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.
“In effect, these laws permit and legalize statutory rape, by giving predators legalized access to the children,” Tan Heang Lee, spokesperson of Women’s Aid Organisation, tells TIME. “Children below 16 cannot consent to sex, married or not.”
The ruling has also provoked criticism from Sarawak’s minister of welfare, women and community well-being, Fatimah Abdullah. “We don’t want this case to create a precedent for perpetrators to get away from paying for their crime by marrying the victims,” she told the Borneo Post.
In socially conservative societies, it is not uncommon for rape victims to be told or pressured to marry their rapists to avoid “shame.” In May, police in Sorong, in the Indonesian province of West Papua, dropped a rape case after the suspect said he would marry his victim, a 14-year-old secondary-school student.