Sisters in Islam (SIS) and G25 urgently calls for justice and compassion for Noura Hussein, a 19-year-old Sudanese girl who has been sentenced to death for fatally stabbing her husband who raped her.
Noura’s lawyers are now appealing for clemency on the grounds that she was forced into the marriage by her family when she was 16 years old. When she had refused to consummate the marriage, her relatives held her head, arms and legs to enable her husband to rape her.
On the second night, when her husband tried to rape her again, Noura stabbed him to death.
Noura’s family has since turned her to the police who arrested her. Her husband’s family has refused the option to pardon her and has rejected financial compensation. They have requested for her to be executed instead.
The legal age for marriage in Sudan is 10 years old. Despite its alarming consequences, arranged child marriage is a deeply rooted tradition in the country.
There are also no laws to protect women from marital rape in Sudan. In fact, Amnesty International found that marital rape happens often in the country, regardless the taboo around it being spoken about openly.
Despite that the case has created a wide public outcry at an international level, the death sentence has been doled out to Noura. Noura’s legal team now has 15 days to appeal.
The Malaysian Context
In voicing our support for Noura, we need to reflect on our responsibility to safeguard Malaysian women and children from being victims of situations like these. We are concerned that there are currently no laws to prevent child marriage and to prosecute marital rape in Malaysia.
At the 69th Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Session In Geneva, Switzerland earlier this year, the committee has pointed out that in Malaysia, child marriage continues to be permitted under both the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act and the Islamic Family Law. This is despite the withdrawal of Malaysia’s reservation of article 16 (2) of the convention.
The committee also expressed concern that the rate of child marriage in Malaysia continues to rise. A proposal to amend the Sexual Offences Against Children Bill to include a ban against child marriage was voted down by the majority in Parliament in April last year.
We would like to point out that Islam is one of the first religions in the world to recognise women’s right to choose her husband.
Therefore, a woman’s consent in marriage is a fundamental right within the religion and forced marriage is gravely against the religion.
We also express grave concern that laws to protect women in cases of marital rape do not exist in Malaysia, and therefore has not been recognised as a crime. Under the Malaysian Penal code, rape, where it occurs in a marriage, is not a criminal act. The consent of a woman in sexual relations is therefore irrelevant where she is married.
Islam forbids husbands from forcing sex on their wives as it is a form of physical abuse and mental torture. As stated in Surah Al-Ruum in the Holy Quran, the husband and wife’s relationship in Islam is built upon the foundation of love and mutual respect. Surah Al-Nisaa also states that men should “live with them in kindness.”
It is therefore clear that marital rape is not permissible in Islam, and current practices are purely cultural in nature. All and any allowance for rape (in and out of marriage) are in direct opposition to the Holy Quran’s intention to maintain equality in the relationship between husband and wife based on the spirit of love and compassion.
What Malaysia Must Do
Malaysia must take a stand that what is happening to Noura Hussein is unacceptable and that she must be accorded justice and redress for the devastating experience that she has been through.
In moving forward as a progressive nation, Malaysia must take proactive and definitive steps to end child marriage in Malaysia, with no exceptions, and to criminalise marital rape. Any delay in getting these changes legislated only prolongs the exposure of women and children to vulnerable situations in our country.
Sisters in Islam
14 May 2018