The Malaysian member of parliament, Tasek Gelugor, made the comment yesterday as Malaysia passed a law on sexual offences against children without criminalising child marriage. Gelugor's comment was in response to a proposal by a female opposition member of parliament to amend the Sexual Offences Against Children bill so that child marriages can be banned.
Gelugor refused her suggestion and said that some 12- and 15-year-old girls looked older than their actual ages and that if a girl reaches puberty at the age of 9 she was ready for marriage and should be allowed to get married.
"When we discuss 12- and 15-year-olds, we don't see their physical bodies because some children aged 12 or 15, their bodies are like 18-year-old women," Gelugor said.
He continued: "They reach puberty at the age of 9 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."
On the issue of rape, Gelugor, who is a former Syariah court judge, said that although rape is a criminal offence, the rapist and the victim should be "given a second chance to turn a new leaf in life".
"Perhaps through marriage they can lead a healthier, better life. And the person who was raped does not necessarily have a bleak future. She will have a husband, at least, and this could serve as a remedy to growing social problems," he said. "The girl becomes safer when she is married rather than when she is left alone. Don't assume they (rapists) remain bad people."
Dr Siti Mariah, the woman who called for child marriages to be made a criminal offence, objected to his suggestion, arguing that allowing the rapist to marry the victim would not guarantee a better life.
"I don't agree with marrying off the victim to the rapist. If the rapist repents, maybe that's fine, but what if the husband is 'haprak' (useless)?" she said.
Sadly, Dr Siti's motion to amend the Sexual Offences Against Children Bill to include child marriages as an offence was ultimately defeated by a voice vote.