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.

Datuk Shabudin Yahaya, from Tasek Gelugor, a town in 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,” Sekaran said. “It does send a message across the country that it is something that we are supposed to be OK with. That’s a very worrying trend: ‘Go and rape someone and if you get caught, offer to marry them.’ “

Government minister Dato’ Abdul Rahman Dahlan said the notion that rapists should marry their victims, many who 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.

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