PETALING JAYA: Women's rights campaigners and abuse survivors are up in arms over the government's decision not to criminalise marital rape.
Responding to Deputy Minister Hanipa Maidin's announcement in Parliament on Tuesday (Oct 30), these groups have urged the government to protect all women from all forms of violence.
"We are disappointed by the Deputy Minister's comment and urge the government to reconsider its decision.
"Marital rape often occurs in the context of domestic violence. By not recognising marital rape, we are empowering abusers and sending the message that it's okay for husbands to rape their wives," said Tan Heang-Lee, communications officer with Women's Aid Organisation (WAO).
A 2014 national study by Universiti Saints Malaysia revealed that 9% of every partnered woman in peninsular Malaysia has experienced domestic violence in their lifetime, of whom 11% reported "forced sex" as a form of abuse.
One of the key risk factors for such violence is that men feel that they have the power to carry out violence on women who are considered the weaker gender, the study revealed.
"This suggests that some 100,000 women in Malaysia have been raped by their intimate partner during their lifetime," said Tan, emphasising the critical need for the criminalisation of marital rape.
Currently, Malaysia's rape law excludes married couples.
"This means that if a husband were to rape his wife, the wife is not protected under rape law.
"This exception actually originates from British colonial law, not religion," she said.
Sisters In Islam (SIS), in a statement, took issue with Hanipa's comment about marital rape being "difficult to prove in court", calling it disgraceful and irresponsible as it implies that when something is difficult, "it is okay to turn a blind to it".
SIS said the act of forcing sex on wives goes directly against Islamic teachings as marital rape is a form of physical abuse and mental torture.
"As marital rape is clearly not permissible in Islam, current practices are purely cultural in nature and cannot be attributed to 'religious factors',” it said.
"Just because the Deputy Minister finds that the 'chances of convictions' will be low, does not negate the existence of such violence in our society and the suffering experienced by women trapped in these predicaments," it added.
Also "extremely disappointed" is a marital rape survivor who wished to be known only as Neelambika.
"Domestic violence is not solely limited to physical abuse. Marital rape is another form of abuse. Forced sex on a spouse is not done out of love.
"Marriage is a partnership where the wife has equal rights. Is she expected to be subservient and submit?" she said.
WAO's Tan added that many countries have done away with this exception. Most recently, Singapore announced its commitment to criminalise marital rape.
"We do not need to create a new marital rape offence. We simply need to remove the exception in Malaysia's rape law which excludes married couples. In other words, Malaysia's rape law should cover everyone, regardless of whether they are married or not," said Tan.
Section 375A of the Penal Code does recognise the offence of "husband causing hurt in order to have sexual intercourse".
"However, this provision is inadequate because rape can happen without hurt, for example through intoxication or other forms of coercion. This provision also fails to recognise that rape is fundamentally about the absence of consent and not the causing of hurt.
"Furthermore, the punishment for this offence is only a maximum of five years, compared to a maximum of 20 years for rape," she said.