KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - Malaysia's government has called for a review of a case in which a rape suspect married his 14-year-old victim to avoid jail, following angry calls for reform by activists.
Ahmad Syukri Yusuf, aged in his 20s, allegedly raped the girl, now 15, last year and faced up to 30 years in prison and a whipping.
But a court in the Malaysian state of Sarawak on Borneo island ruled last week it would not proceed with the case after it emerged Yusuf had married his alleged victim.
Malaysia's Women, Family and Community Development Minister Rohani Abdul Karim said the deputy public prosecutor will ask the High Court to review the case.
She added authorities will in future prevent suspects accused of rape from marrying the alleged victim.
"The ministry through the social welfare department will intervene to prevent such marriages," she was quoted as saying by national news agency Bernama Thursday.
"A rape case is still a rape case, the offender must be sentenced if he is found guilty, the case cannot be dropped by marriage." There have been similar cases in the past.
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.
Activists welcomed the government's intervention but said more needed to be done.
"This is a very good step forward but we need to push the government to ban child marriages," Heang Lee Tan from Women's Aid Organisation in Malaysia told AFP.
"We cannot afford to wait any more." But she added: "In addition to legal reforms, there needs to be changes in societal attitudes also." Critics say in conservative Muslim-majority Malaysia, sometimes victims' families would rather a girl marry her rapist instead of her name being tarnished in court.
Child marriages are not uncommon in Malaysia.
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.