Kuala Lumpur: Malaysian child protection activists called for a legal review Wednesday after two men convicted of having sex with minors were allowed to go free in recent weeks.
Chuah Guan Jiu, 22, was freed on probation Monday after a court in the northern city of Georgetown found him guilty on two charges of statutory rape of his girlfriend when she was 12 years and 10-months-old.
The release came weeks after national ten-pin bowler Noor Afizal Azizan, 21, was freed on a good behaviour bond, following a successful appeal against a five-year jail sentence for having sex with a 13-year-old girl.
The bowler, who was 19 at the time of the offence in 2009, had pleaded guilty but a Court of Appeal ruling reportedly said “public interest would not be served if Noor Afizal was sent to jail as he had a bright future.”
The Georgetown district court similarly said it considered Chuah’s future as he was a young first-time offender, The Star newspaper reported.
Chuah’s lawyer Yusuf Idris argued the sex was “purely consensual” and his client was not educated on the law having dropped out of school at 14, “and did not know about the offence.”
“The victim did agree in court that she gave consent and was in love with the accused,” he told AFP.
Child rights activist Hartini Zainudin, who runs the NurSalam crisis centre, said the penal code should be reviewed immediately to ensure children are given the protection they require.
“How can consent by a child, 12-years-old, be a mitigating factor? I’m speaking as a child activist, who’s just horrified at the implications... on future cases and the message we’re sending out to perverts and paedophiles,” she told AFP.
Child protection NGO Voice of the Children also criticised the rulings.
“Is a good behaviour bond the right sentence for a then 21-year-old man who had sex with a 12-year-old girl, who has barely entered puberty?” said VoC chairwoman Sharmila Sekaran in a statement.
“Malaysia determined the age of consent at 16 years for a reason. The statutory rape law was enacted to protect young girls. The court needs to consider the nine-year age gap.”
People also expressed outrage on social media such as Twitter.
“What the courts have effectively done in these two cases is lower the age of statutory rape from 16 to 12,” one user posted Tuesday.
Statutory rape in Malaysia is punishable by a maximum jail sentence of 20 years and whipping.