When an opposition politician is alleged to have had illicit sex, the Malaysian public gets energised. The internet is trawled for snippets of information. Coffee shop gossip becomes the gospel truth. Grainy video recordings are played and discussed at length, and many suddenly become expert detectives.
However, when we have reports about children being raped, only a handful of parents and NGOs show any interest.
Rohani Abdul Karim, the Women, Family and Community Development Minister, said recently that her ministry would intervene in cases where statutory rapists marry their victims. The promise came a day after it was reported that a man had escaped a prison sentence after marrying the young girl he raped.
Should we believe her? There have been many reports over the years of rapists marrying their underage victims to escape prosecution.
Rohani’s statement didn’t sound any different from, say, the promises made by the Transport Minister to institute stern measures against traffic offenders when there are major road accidents involving heavy losses of life. The rakyat knows it is all hype. When the fuss has abated, we are back to the status quo.
Why should rape cases be any different? Our ministers only react. They are not proactive. They don’t have the political will to ensure strict enforcement of the law against rapists and child abusers.
The case that Rohani was referring to involved a 22-year-old man and his 14-year-old victim. The girl apparently dropped the rape charge after the culprit agreed to marry her. It was as if it was a civil case instead of a criminal one.
How could her parents condemn their daughter to a future that’s most likely to be bleak? As a wife and mother, she will probably be denied an education and she will not have the skills required to adapt to adult life. She endures three traumas: the rape, the social stigma and the insult of being married off to the person who destroyed her future.
To appease the public, Rohani used words like “the ministry’s concern” and “the public should be made aware of children’s rights.” But we’ve heard all that many times before. What we want to know is whether anyone in the current administration has the political will to do what is right.
Last year, Rohani told the Dewan Rakyat that a Child Sex Offenders list would be developed by the end of this year. We’ll wait and see, but a similar promise was made in 2007 after the rape and murder of 8-year-old Nur Jazlin Jazimin. Nine years later, this promise remains unfulfilled.
How can we be serious about tackling statutory rape and other sex crimes when even the IGP has been on record as saying that a Sex Offenders list is unnecessary? Not too long ago, he was quoted as saying, “To me, the existing criminal record registry is already enough. If we set up another registry for those involved in sexual crimes, it would overlap.”
Strangely though, it is the religious bigots who seem to be encouraging the marriage of statutory rapists to their victims, and it is the need to appease these people that has robbed Putrajaya of the political will to do the right thing.
Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.
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