By Mariam Mokhtar
The recent debate on the Child (Amendment) Bill 2015, in parliament, sparked a furious row amongst some MPs. The debate also highlighted that some MPs do not understand the meaning of statutory rape, and have no clue about the mental and physical trauma suffered by the victim, and her family.
Just to be clear, Section 375(G) of the Penal Code states that sex with a person who is under 16, with or without her consent, is considered statutory rape.
DAP Kulai MP, Teo Nie Ching, said that child marriages should be banned. She cited cases of statutory rape, in which someone has sex with a minor.
She was concerned about a recent case in Sabah, where a 40-year-old restaurant manager, raped a 12-year-old girl. In trying to avoid punishment, the rapist paid his victim's father RM10,000 for his silence, and also offered to marry the girl.
The restaurant manager was already married and has four children. He met his victim on Facebook, where he posed as a 24-year-old man.
Teo was interrupted by Nik Mazian Nik Mohamad, the PAS MP for Pasir Puteh, who said that any sexually active 14-year-old girl, who has consented to have sex with a man, is lusting for sex. He added that child marriages would stop underage girls like her, from having premarital casual sex.
It is naïve of Nik Mazlan to think that a marriage will prevent marital partners from being unfaithful. A marriage which has no solid foundation of mutual trust and respect, is probably doomed from the start. A marriage which is supposed to stop one or both of the partners from having casual sex, does not sound like a good basis of one of the most sacred of unions.
Moreover, why does Nik Mazlan think that it is always the woman's fault? He said that the underage girl, who consents to having sex with a man, possesses what he termed "sexual lust". What about the man? Was he seduced by the young girl?
A responsible adult should realise that sex with a minor is statutory rape. It does not matter if she agrees to have sex or not. It is still rape. He is committing a crime.
Moreover, does Nik Mazlan not realise that when a rapist agrees to marry his victim, and society condones this act, a warped message is being sent to potential rapists? Instead of being punished, rapists are rewarded with a young girl, with whom he can do as he pleases, until he tires of her. It is the cost of a dowry and a wedding feast. It is wrong and this is not justice.
Did Nik Mazlan think about the suffering of the rape victim?
A girl who is married-off does not have much of a future. She will not complete her studies. She will not have the qualifications to enter higher learning. She may be inviting more abuse by her husband.
If she is pregnant, she will have to stay at home, to care for the baby. Her body is not fully developed, and childbirth may be dangerous. Before she is out of her teens, she may already have a few children to care for, when she is still a child herself.
Many studies have been made on young girls who are forced to marry at an early age.
What happens if her husband leaves her? What skills or qualifications does she have, to get employment to support her family? She may be forced to look for low paid menial work.
If she is from a wealthy family, she may not need child care. If she is not, the money she earns may have to be used to pay for childcare, which these days, is not cheap.
Often, a girl, without education or skills, is condemned to a bleak future. A woman is not just a baby-making machine. She is not someone's plaything. She can contribute to the country, to her community and to the economy.
Marrying-off a young girl, because some men claim that she is "lustful for sex" is the wrong approach towards marriage. Contrary to the opinions of some, sex education is not about how to have free sex. Sex education discusses the dangers of having sex at an early age, the consequences of having unprotected sex, how to say "No!" and how to avoid peer pressure and most important of all, the importance of stable, loving relationships.
Forcing child marriages on underage children, is simply lazy and irresponsible parenting. Just cast your eye on your 12-year-old daughter or granddaughter? Why would you want her to be married-off at this tender age, when there is so much that the world has to offer her, and she, the world?