KUALA LUMPUR - A Malaysian court on Monday sentenced a man to 12 years in jail for raping a 12-year-old whom he later married, as an activist urged the Muslim-majority nation to ban all child marriages.
The district court in Sabah state on Borneo island found former restaurant manager Riduan Masmud, 41, guilty of raping the girl in February last year, his lawyer Ram Singh said.
The father-of-four was charged with rape shortly after the act, but in May last year told the court that he had married the girl.
The case caused an outcry and prosecutors continued to pursue the rape charge.
"The court says even though the marriage is still valid, he is guilty" of rape, Ram told AFP, adding he would appeal the verdict.
Riduan was also sentenced to a fine and two strokes of the cane. The court deferred the sentence pending appeal.
Ram said Riduan was also facing bribery charges in a separate court for paying the girl's father 5,000 ringgit ($1,500) to give his consent to the marriage.
Child marriages are not uncommon in the conservative Southeast Asian country. Some 60 per cent of Malaysia's 28 million people are Muslim.
Girls below the age of 16 must obtain the permission of Islamic courts, which regulate civil matters for Muslims. But activists say such permission is too readily granted.
Ivy Josiah, executive director of Women's Aid Organisation, said Malaysia should make 18 the legal age for marriage for all.
"It's not the end of the story. We keep hearing of isolated cases (of child marriages) but enough to raise concern," she told AFP.
Muslims are allowed to have up to four wives in Malaysia. Riduan's children from his first wife are aged three to 18, Ram said.