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Malaysia plans mandatory jail terms for sex with minors

KUALA LUMPUR -- Malaysia is planning to make jail terms mandatory for sex with minors following an outcry after two men convicted of statutory rape were allowed to go free, the de facto law minister said.

Nazri Aziz, the minister in charge of legal matters, was quoted by local media Sunday as saying the government would change the law to prevent judges from lifting jail sentences in such cases.

The proposed change would come before parliament next year, he was quoted as saying. Nazri could not immediately be reached for further comments.

Malaysian child protection activists have called for a legal review after two men convicted of having sex with minors were allowed to go free in August.

In the first case, a national ten-pin bowler was freed on probation following a successful appeal against a five-year jail sentence. The bowler had pleaded guilty to having sex with a 13-year-old when he was 19.

In the second case, a 22-year-old was also freed on probation after being found guilty on two charges of statutory rape of his girlfriend, who was 12 years old.

Defense lawyers in both cases had argued that the men were first time offenders, and no force was involved.

The age of consent is 16 in Malaysia. Rape is punishable by a minimum five-year and maximum 20-year jail sentence and whipping.

Maria Chin Abdullah, executive director of women's rights group Empower, welcomed jail sentences for sex offenders but said the government should also improve rehabilitation of those convicted and sex education in schools.

“I think it's about more than just punishment ... The system has actually failed the young people,” she told AFP.

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