KUALA LUMPUR, July 25 — The Domestic Violence Act will only protect victims who are legally wedded and not cohabiting couples who suffer abuse at their lover’s’ hands, Datuk Seri Rohani Abdul Karim confirmed today.
The women, family and community development minister said those unmarried victims of home violence could instead seek recourse under the Penal Code.
"The protection under this Act only applies to couples of de facto husband and wife, which is those who have gone through the marriage ceremony; this Act does not apply to couples that don't have marriage ties even though they have intimate relations.
"Although these couples are not protected under this Act, reports on the perpetrator's violence can be lodged by the victim and the perpetrator can be punished under the Penal Code such as Section 323 and Section 324 and so on," she said in the Dewan Rakyat.
Rohani expressed concern over the "effectiveness" of the Domestic Violence Act if the definition of households became too wide.
"If we open it up too wide, later we can't cope, so let it be like this for now. For this [Act], it is for married couples and whoever had marriage ceremonies.
"But there are many who mentioned boyfriend, girlfriend, I think we are unable to include it in this amendment. And if there is any need, we will see in the time to come, because for now we focus on those who are legally recognised," she said in her winding-up speech after debates on proposed amendments to the Domestic Violence Act.
Yesterday, Kota Raja MP Dr Siti Mariah Mahmud had in debating the Domestic Violence (Amendment) Bill suggested that this law be amended to also apply to unmarried couples living together.
Today, Dr Siti Mariah thanked Rohani for being "realistic" about the capability to cope if the Domestic Violence Act was to be expanded to cover unmarried couples, but expressed concern that those in such relationships would lose the benefit of being given counselling due to their lack of marital ties.
"Although these cases can be reported to the police and criminal laws can be used on the abuser, but after that no follow-up," Dr Siti Mariah said when interjecting Rohani’s winding-up speech.
Setiu MP Che Mohamad Zulkifly Jusoh then urged that any further extension of the word "household" should be given only to non-Muslims.
"If the minister wants to consider to include being intimate without marriage in the definition of 'household', I think this can only be limited to non-Muslims. If Muslims, we can't; can't make it as family members because there are no marital ties," the Barisan Nasional lawmaker said.
Pasir Puteh MP Datuk Nik Mazlan Nik Mohamad questioned why such couples who have intimate relations do not want to marry and have legitimate ties, as such status would then grant them and their children protection.
Dr Siti Mariah responded by saying: "Actually, in reality there are cases [of those] who want to marry, but are unable to marry”.
She cited as examples those who married abroad but did not register their marriages with Malaysian authorities, and those who have incomplete documents to register their weddings at their respective religious houses of worship.
The Amanah lawmaker also said she knew of couples, especially among the ethnic Indians, who were unable to wed legally due to their families’ complicated religious history.
She explained that the marriage of a Hindu couple would not be recognised by the law when one of them was deemed to be Muslim because his or her parent had converted to Islam.
The Bill to amend the Domestic Violence Act was passed this evening with no amendments.