Comments from a Malaysian Parliament member that there is nothing wrong with rapists marrying their victims — even those who are children — have drawn international scorn.

Shabudin Yahaya, from Tasek Gelugor, a town in the state of Penang, spoke Tuesday during a parliamentary debate over a bill on sex crimes against children, arguing against a proposal to criminalize child marriages, according to Reuters.

“They reach puberty at the age of 9 or 12,” he said. “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, a former sharia court judge, acknowledged that rape was a crime, but he suggested that the rapist and victim could be “given a second chance to turn a new leaf through marriage,” according to BBC News.

“Perhaps through marriage they can lead a healthier, better life,” he said, according to the news agency. “And the person who was raped will not necessarily have a bleak future.

“She will have a husband at least, and this could serve as a remedy to growing social problems.”

Sharmila Sekaran, who heads the advocacy group Voice of the Children, told the Guardian that she was “outraged” over Shabudin's statement, which was “basically to justify and legalize a wrong — a statutory rape.”

“He’s a leader of society, as a member of Parliament, and it’s worrying that he has this line of thinking,” Sharmila said. “It does send a message across the country that it is something that we are supposed to be okay with. That’s a very worrying trend: ‘Go and rape someone and if you get caught offer to marry them.’”

Government minister Abdul Rahman Dahlan said the notion that rapists should marry their victims, many of whom are underage, struck him with “utter shock and disappointment.”

“Every child has the right to live, to dream, and to have fun,” Abdul Rahman, a minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, wrote Tuesday night on Facebook. “While it is the parents' responsibility to provide a decent childhood for their children, the government and lawmakers have the responsibility to protect the best interest of Malaysian children."

He added that “laws are enacted to protect our children — especially underage girls," and that the law "is unequivocal on this matter." Under the Malaysian Penal Code, "it is considered statutory rape for a man to have sex with a girl under 16 years of age — with or without her consent," he wrote. "Therefore, it is abhorrent in this 21st century to suggest that a rapist — who should in the first place be prosecuted — has the means to escape legal responsibility simply by marrying his victim.”

Penang's chief minister, Lim Guan Eng, called for Shabudin to step down as a member of Parliament, saying his suggestion that rapists should be permitted to marry their victims shows a “depraved and sick” mind.

“Penangites don't want a monster to become their MP. We don't want people with no compassion for rape victims to be an MP,” he said at a news conference. “We are ashamed to have an MP like this from Penang. Even though he's not in the state government, he is a black mark for Penang.”

Following an international uproar, Shabudin said Wednesday in a statement on Facebook that his comments had been misconstrued. Reuters reported that the lawmaker said he opposed the ban on child marriages only because it went against provisions in sharia law — adding that marriage is not a “back door exit to legalize rape.”

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