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The Absurdity Of A Law That Implies Women Are The Personal Property Of Their Husbands

A 24-year-old male celebrity in Kuala Lumpur has been charged with "seducing a married woman" under Section 498 of the Penal Code after the 36-year-old woman's husband filed a complaint that she left with the man without his permission.

Cover image via Bernama & Ibrahim Sani/Astro Awani

On Friday, 29 May, at the Ampang Magistrate's Court in Kuala Lumpur, a male actor was charged with "seducing" or enticing a 36-year-old married woman with the intention of having illicit intercourse with him

According to the facts of the case, the 24-year-old actor was charged under Section 498 of the Penal Code, which carries a maximum two years' imprisonment, or a fine, or both, if found guilty.

The actor, who was named as Muhammad Shah Radhi Hazvee, pleaded not guilty.

The alleged offence — which involves Shah Hazvee enticing 36-year-old Nurul Haireena Isnin to have illicit intercourse with him despite knowing that she is the lawful wife of 38-year-old Syed Mukhris Syed Ismail Shahabudin — was said to have been committed in Taman Sering Ukay at 8pm on Monday, 25 May.

Shah Hazvee, who was detained under remand for three days, was allowed to be released on bail of RM2,000 in one surety with Magistrate Farah Nasihah Annuar setting 5 August for mention.

The case came to light after the 36-year-old woman's husband filed a complaint that she left with Shah Hazvee without his permission

As per a report in Bernama on 27 May, the 38-year-old husband claimed, in his police complaint on 25 may, that his wife had — without his permission — left their residence with another man.

The husband, Syed Mukhris, claimed that the actor, whom he knew, had been in contact with his "wife with intent to entice her in order to obtain something", the Bernama report said.

According to Ampang Jaya district police chief ACP Noor Azmi Yusoff, the actor was detained after he came forward to provide a statement in relation to the husband's complaint.

A Malay Mail report on Wednesday cited an anonymous source saying that "the forbidden relationship began last year" after Nurul Haireena started working with the man 12 years younger than her.

What exactly does Section 498 of the Penal Code say?

It covers enticement/seduction or taking away or detaining with a criminal intent a married woman.

Shah Hazvee is not the first man to be charged under Section 498.

This is reportedly the third time in Malaysia that a person has been charged with enticing a married woman, and there are multiple cases of men being fined under the same law. In fact, back in 2017, a senior official of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) was investigated for an affair with a married woman.

The first reported use of Section 498 involves another Malaysian celebrity, Daphne Iking, in over a decade ago when the case resulted in a public apology from the accused, Darren Choy Khin Ming, to Daphne's then-husband Ryan Chong Yiing Yih for causing him "embarrassment and humiliation".

What's the issue?

Section 498 — like many laws in the Malaysian legal system — comes from the Indian Penal Code (IPC), where it was drafted over a century ago in 1860, which was itself based on the old Victorian-era laws.

Over the years, it has been called "an equal law" and discriminatory as it holds only one person responsible — the other man, while completely disregarding consent or willingness on the part of the married woman.

At the time of it being drafted, women were perceived as the property of their husbands.

In essence, Section 498 criminalises consensual intimate relationships between adults. However, it only privileges the husband with the right to sue another man for the enticement of his wife. The wife has no say.

Back in 2017, Astro AWANI's then Business Desk Editor, Ibrahim Sani, had argued that "the law is deemed to be outdated and that it no longer reflects the values of modern society".

While discussing a 2017 case under the section, Sani, who is now anchor and presenter, wrote, "The law is worded to ensure that the husband could exert his control over her and therefore treats the wife as an 'item' or 'property' of him, and therefore he must be compensated for any loss of control he has over her."

Furthermore, because of the way Section 498 is worded, the husband must be compensated by the State for any loss of control, perceived or otherwise, he has over the wife.

The court can also order the said wife "to return to her husband", implying personal possession.

Another issue is that Section 498 takes away a woman's agency with regards to her own body once she becomes someone's wife

It implies that married women are unable to think for themselves and are incapable of making decisions.

A paper discussing the law, titled, "An Antiquated Law?" by Nor Aini Abdullah, also highlighted another discriminatory point that Section 498 denotes "that women are easily enticed and so gullible" that when it comes to governing their bodies, they are denied the right to do so.

"It is also construed that because of their stupidity, women need a law to 'shelter' them from men with dubious and ill intentions. It would not be wrong to say that this section clearly insults the intelligence of women and signified that women are easily enticed and so naive as to be seduced," the paper read.

Safe to say Section 498 is not just outdated but also absurd for implying that women are the personal property of their husbands by denying the wives the ability to decide for themselves.

This story is the personal opinion of the writer. You too can submit a story as a SAYS reader by emailing us at [email protected]

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