A Malaysian MP said girls as young as nine were “physically and spiritually” ready for marriage, as the Muslim-majority Southeast Asian country passed a law on sexual offences against children without criminalizing child marriage.
Shabudin Yahaya, a member of the Barisan Nasional coalition, made the comments in response to a proposal by an opposition member of parliament to amend the Sexual Offences Against Children bill to include a ban on child marriages.
The proposal was voted down by the majority of parliament.
“They reach puberty at the age of nine or 12. And at that time, their body is already akin to them being 18 years old. So physically and spiritually, it is not a barrier for the girl to marry,” Shabudin said on Tuesday during a debate on the bill.
He also said there was “nothing wrong” with a rape victim marrying her rapist as she would then not face a “bleak future”.
Shabudin’s comments sparked outrage on social media, with some opposition politicians asking for him to be fired.
In a statement on Wednesday, Shabudin said his comments were taken out of context, and that marriage was not a “back door exit to legalize rape.” He said he rejected the motion to ban child marriages as it was contrary to provisions in sharia law.
Under both civil law and Islamic law, girls and boys younger than 18 can be married. Civil law sets the minimum age of marriage at 18.