Malaysia’s shame: Why marriage is no justice for victims of rape

MP Datuk Shabudin recently told Parliament he thought female victims of rape were better off marrying their attacker. This is a symptom of the country’s brutal attitude to women. 

By Tan Zhi Xin, edited by Francesca Ross

Child victims of rape should resolve their issues with their rapist by marrying them said Tasek Gelugor MP Datuk Shabudin during a debate on a sexual offences bill. Girls as young as nine-years old were “spiritually and physically ready” for marriage, Shabudin added.

“Perhaps through marriage they can lead a healthier, better life. And the person who was raped does not necessarily have a bleak future. She will have a husband, at least, and this could serve as a remedy to growing social problems,” Shabudin said.

Shabudin’s comment reveals his distorted personal worldview. It also shines a light on the patriarchy, male chauvinism, and structural problems of Malaysian society.

The current system makes a mockery of Islamic principles say activists

Rape is about power and domination and should not be tolerated. Having rapists marry their victims is like encouraging this heinous act. It implies that marriage is a way to evade punishment. If the rapist marries his victim, he can leave court a free man.

The Malaysian women’s rights activists, Sisters in Islam responded to Shabudin’s comment by condemning this twisted interpretation of their faith. “Suggesting that marriage and statutory rape can be conflated is a mockery to Islam. Marriage in Islam is about love, compassion, mutual respect and mutual responsibility between husband and wife,” said their statement.

“How can there be love and compassion if there is an unfair balance of power between the spouses and a threat of sexual abuse in the marriage right from the start?” it continued.

Rape is a crime against religion in Islam. To imply sexual violence is permitted, so long as the perpetrator “pays” by marrying the victim, is an insult to the scriptures.

Women should not be expected to marry their attacker

Rape victims in Malaysia are pushed to marry their rapist to salvage their honour, and that of their family. This is a common practice in many parts of the world. But this is not the solution to the societal ill. Forcing marriage upon a girl robbed of her youth and future does nothing to prevent such cases from happening again.

While Islam does not specify an “appropriate” age for marriage, it talks about maturity. Maturity comes with time and experience. There is a clear difference between maturity in terms of physical attributes – as Shabudin believes – and maturity in terms of the ability to take on life. No nine-year old child is ready for marriage and the pressures that it brings,

Women are seen as less than men in Malaysian society

Men that commit rape generally think of women as being inferior, research has shown.  They believe “women were created to fulfill men’s desires”, that “men are meant to lead women”, and “women need to be taught and shown the right way”, the results of a study involving 90 convicted rapists in Malaysian prisons.

These attitudes of “men above women” and “she’s mine” are widespread. Zaman Khan, a prison department director-general, said he once asked an imprisoned father why he raped his own daughter. The father replied “As a father, I had planted the seed before my child was born. Thus I am rightfully the person to taste the fruit before anybody else.”

The case of the famous bowler, Noor Afizal Azizan, illustrates Malaysia’s problem with women. He avoided jail for statutory rape because the “public interest would not be served if Noor Afizal was sent to jail as he had a bright future”. It is easy to see the double standard here. Apparently, only the man’s future matters.

The issue must be properly addressed, in law and in culture

It is easy to blame the dominant religion for perpetuating such vile ideologies. However, the gross display of misogyny and chauvinism outlined in these tales is not part of Islamic culture. Law enforcers, lawmakers and the public are hiding behind the Quran to justify their erosion of democracy. They use religious excuses to avoid the truth – their inability to govern the country.

There were 28,741 reported cases of rape between 2005 and 2014 in Malaysia, said an American report. On average, more than 10 women were raped each day. More than half of these women were under 16 years of age. Only 16% (4514 cases) were taken to court, and just 2.7% (765 cases) had guilty verdicts.

 The low rate of conviction is embedded in public ignorance. Women that report a rape are subject to scrutiny over their dress code, their behaviour, and even their capacity to say no. Public opinion rarely blames the man for forcing himself on the woman.

Women are reluctant to report rape cases

Most victims choose not to report a rape case due to the shame and fear of discrimination. A lack of will and poor standards of evidence collection often stand in the way of even the cases the police are involved in.

Malaysia has always prided itself as a moderate Muslim country where Shariah law only applies to Muslims. Religious freedom is allowed. However, Islamic fundamentalism is rising. Barisan Nasional uses faith to tighten its grip on power. The recent halal controversy is nothing new.

Rape is the ultimate reflection of moral decline in society. The Malaysian government needs to stop hiding behind the Quran to hold onto power. Instead of implementing superficial solutions that scratch the surface of the problem, the authorities need to work on educating the public about the importance of women standing up for themselves.

Society does not benefit from rape culture or an archaic patriarchy system. Are you listening Datuk Shabudin? Mothers, sisters, children, citizens – women are the heart of any functioning society. Any good man would protect them.