SO here’s what we know, Tasek Gelugor MP Datuk Shabudin Yahya told the Dewan Rakyat recently that rape victims have the opportunity to lead a healthy life if they marry their rapists.
According to what was reported, Shabudin went on to say that even rape victims around the age of nine were “physically and spiritually” ready for marriage.
It came as no surprise that Shabudin became an overnight sensation. Most of us went to sleep last night thinking “did he really say that?”
It didn’t help Shabudin either that the media chose a staring-into-the-abyss-with-mouth-wide-open picture of him to go along with the articles that followed after his slip of tongue.
In a way, Shabudin fits into that conservative, ultra-Malay, using Islam to satisfy your personal sexual desires persona that the majority of Malaysians love to hate on.
You could say he’s the media’s second version of Abdullah Zaik from ISMA.
There’s a lot to take in from what happened in Parliament yesterday. And our fingers are eager to do some pointing and blaming. But like that cool redhead guy in CSI Miami always said, what’s too good (or in this case too obscene) to be true often is not what actually happened.
When you look back at Dewan Rakyat sitting on May 5 (which can be viewed on YouTube (yes, Malaysia’s Parliament is up to date) you would get the sense that some underlying truths were missed by the articles and reports that came out.
So here’s the breakdown.
Around two hours into the afternoon session of Parliament, the Speaker opens the floor for debate on MP Kulai, Teo Nie Ching’s recommendation that the prohibition of child marriages be included in the Child Sexual Offences Bill.
Shabudin is first to the mic to explain why Teo Nie Ching’s amendment is unnecessary.
He begins by referencing the Enactment of Islamic Family Law 2004 where states, and in Shabudin’s personal example, Penang, have decided on the minimum age for marriage; 18 for boys and 16 for girls.
In truth, Shabudin isn’t taking a stand against the amendment but is simply clarifying why the current Syariah laws are already working against child marriages.
Whether or not 16 is still too young for girls is another debate (I think it is).
Shabudin goes on to explain that the Syariah system does consider exceptions for marriages below the age of 16. And this is where things get a little confusing. According to Section 18 of the Enactment of Islamic Family Law 2004, Syariah judges are allowed to grant permission to guardians to oversee underage marriage in special cases where a girl needs to be married. The key word here is needs (“perlu”).
Shabudin does not clarify what he means by “needs” to be married. On the one hand, this could mean that the underage girl was raped and that she “needs” to be married to take care of the baby. But it could also imply that the girl is pregnant as a result of consensual unprotected premarital sex in which case Islamic courts do lean on recommending that the young couple get married to avoid the baby being born out of wedlock.
Shabudin explains that he means the second scenario when he outlines that underage marriage and sexual crimes on girls below 16 should be debated differently.
This is where things get even more confusing. Rather than explaining why underage marriage and sexual crimes on young girls are different, Shabudin backtracks and instead defines that all sexual acts with girls below the age of 16 are a form of “rogol.” Let’s repeat that.
Shabudin is defining “rogol” as any sexual interaction between a male and a female below 16. Meaning that Shabudin’s —perhaps not so well thought out— definition of “rogol" also includes consensual sex, sex between two young couples before marriage.
The problem with this is that “rogol” translates to rape. And rape in English can only mean a situation where someone forces himself onto a victim.
Quite spectacularly, in the minutes that follow, Shabudin uses “rogol” to mean a situation where two couples had consensual sex. This explains why he says that the man who committed the premarital sex sin or “rogol” can in fact marry the pregnant girl to avoid social problems resulting from a baby being born without married parents.
According to Shabudin, “perhaps through marriage they can lead a healthier, better life.”
Very quickly, before he is interrupted, Shabudin clarifies that “rogol” in the sense of one forcing himself on another, will always be considered a crime.
It is at this point that Siti Mariah Mahmud, MP of Kota Raja stands up to explain that she disagrees with how Shabudin regards marriage as a solution to social ills.
She illustrates how the male and boyfriend sinner —and here you can see that she too is working under Shabudin’s definition of “rogol”—might not be capable of taking care of the girl when married. Siti then urges that Syariah courts also provide scrutiny on couples who have just passed the minimum age for marriage.
In his reply, Shabudin should rightfully be criticised for saying that even nine year olds are matured enough for marriage. But because both Shabudin and Siti Mariah are debating on an entirely different definition of “rogol,” it would be wrong to say that Shabudin is indicating that nine-year-old victims of rape should marry their attacker.
Perhaps this whole situation was made worse by the fact that the Speaker leaves mid-debate and is replaced by his deputy who might not have heard Shabudin define “rogol” as any form of sexual interaction with an underage girl.
The Speaker could have interjected and asked both Shabudin and Siti Mariah to use more specific terms.
What all of this has shown us is that we tend to latch on to things too quickly. Yes, most of us went beyond the headline to read the full story.
Most of us even went on other news portals to see if they reported the same thing. This is great. But we failed to dive deeper than just what reporters and journalists tell us.
Oddly, in a society that increasingly distrusts the media, we have no problem constructing our judgement based solely on media reports. The raw evidence is always there.
We need to remember that journalists and the media work against the clock. They might not have the time to dive deep into the debate, the sentiments between the lines. They are in competition with others to release the story first to get the scoop first.
On a positive note however, amidst the confusion, it was great to see that the large majority of Malaysians are quite progressive and open minded.
A man says something that goes against all logic and a lot of us used every medium available to vent out our opposition.
That is democracy after all, albeit on a Neanderthal level.
* The writer is a special officer to a Malaysian politician. He voices his opinions in several English dailies about the local political landscape and general news.
** The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of Astro AWANI.