Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) - The Malaysian parliament approved a bill on sexual offences against children without outlawing child marriage.
Opposition MP Teo Nie Ching had proposed banning child marriage, but her amendment failed to win support in parliament in the Muslim majority country.
During the debate, Shabudin Yahaya, a member of the Barisan Nasional coalition, said that girls as young as nine were "physically and spiritually" ready for marriage.
"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," he said.
He also added that in his view there was "nothing wrong" with a rape victim marrying her rapist to avoid a "bleak future".
Shabudin's comments sparked outrage, with some opposition politicians calling on for him to resign.
In a statement on Wednesday, Shabudin said his comments were taken out of context, and that marriage was not a "back door exit to legalise rape,” noting that he rejected the motion to ban child marriages as it is contrary to provisions in Islamic law (Sharia).
Under both civil law and Islamic law, girls and boys under 18 can marry. Civil law sets the minimum age of marriage at 18, but those above 16 can marry with the permission of their state's chief minister.
Under Islamic law, children younger than 16 can get married if the Sharia courts allow it.
The new law criminalises "grooming" – touching and befriending children as a prelude to sexual abuse – and spells out penalties for making and possessing child pornography. However, the law does not mention child marriage.
Critics argue that this allows offenders to get away with rape through marriage. Spousal abuse is not an offence under Islamic and Malaysian law.
Over the years, several rapists have married their victims, including underage girls, to avoid prosecution.