KUALA LUMPUR: A Malaysian man who raped a 14-year-old girl avoided being thrown in jail after he married the young victim, sparking calls from angry activists for legal reforms on Thursday.
A court in the Malaysian state of Sarawak on Borneo island ruled last week there was "no necessity to proceed further with this case" following evidence that the two were married, the Borneo Post news website reported.
The victim, now 15, was allegedly raped twice by Ahmad Syukri Yusuf, in his twenties, last year. Rape in Malaysia carries a penalty of up to 30 years in prison and whipping.
Activists say such cases are not uncommon in the conservative Muslim-majority country, where sometimes victims' families would rather a girl marry her rapist instead of her name being tarnished in court.
But this loophole in the system can give the wrong signal to others that there are no serious consequences for rape, they say.
"Over the years we have handled many such cases where the man marries the victim and then divorces her and pays some money to her family," Aegile Fernandez of Tenaganita, an NGO in Malaysia, told AFP.
"A rape is a rape. There needs to be better education on this," she added, calling the case an "injustice".
In 2013, a man who raped a 12-year-old girl avoided prison after he married her, provoking an outcry among rights groups. However, the following year a high court sentenced the father-of-four to 12 years in jail.
Opposition politician Teo Nie Ching also criticised the latest court ruling.
"This is not the first time that a rapist [has been] allowed to marry his underage victim, and this is surely not going to be the last," she was quoted as saying by the Malaysiakini news website.
Child marriages are not uncommon in the Southeast Asian country.
Girls below the age of 16 must obtain the permission of Islamic courts -- who regulate civil matters for Muslims -- but activists say such permission is too readily granted.
Over the years there have been renewed calls for the government to outlaw child marriages.