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Can An Adult Legally Be In A Relationship With A 17-Year-Old In Malaysia?

Can An Adult Legally Be In A Relationship With A 17-Year-Old In Malaysia?

Large age-gap relationships with a minor is dangerous territory.

Anne Dorall

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17-year-old public figure Athalia Buswani recently caused a stir when she uploaded a Tiktok video with 29-year-old Malaysian actor Alvin Chong together with the caption, “You think you can hurt our feelings? People judge us because of our age gap”.

The video was later shared onto Twitter, which drew outrage from fans and Twitter users alike, balking at the implications that the two were dating.

While it was later clarified that they are NOT dating, and were only together for an upcoming marketing campaign, it still sparked heavy discussion in terms of a large age gap in dating, especially when nearly-of-age minors are involved.

Is it legal?

In Malaysia, the Child Act 2001 defines a ‘child’ as ‘a person under the age of 18 years’, and the Age of Majority Act 1971 considers every person within Malaysia shall be at the age of majority at 18 years old. This generally means that in the eyes of the law, they are children and cannot be held to standards of adults, and are generally not capable of certain legal matters such as signing contracts or getting married without parental permission.

According to the Malaysian Penal Code (Act 574), Section 375, the age of consent to have sex in Malaysia is at 16 years old. Sex with someone under the age of 16 is automatically classified as statutory rape, even with “consent” from both parties.

No-go is no-go.
(Credit: Freepik)

However, that doesn’t mean teenagers above the age of 16 years old can have sex! According to the Sexual Offenses Against Children Act of 2017, which states that any sexual conduct with a minor or child below the age of 18 is illegal and a sexual offense. Additionally, Malaysia does not have close-in-age exemptions, so even if both parties are underage, it will still be considered statutory rape, though rare.

While the legal system has an age limit in place, the fact of the matter is that relationships involving large age gaps with nearly-of-age minors or even young adults could be a red flag signalling child grooming.

What is child grooming?

Child grooming is the intention to sexually communicate with a child (any person under 18 years of age), or who encourages a child to sexually communicate, according to the Sexual Offenses Against Children Act of 2017.

Even if there is no physical sexual activity, sexual communication includes non-physical acts like verbal suggestions or indecent actions!

Being asked to send nudes is also considered sexual communication.
(Credit: Freepik)

Minors under the age of 18 are easily manipulated due to their curious natures and lack of knowledge and boundaries. They can be easily coerced into engaging in inappropriate sexual behaviour with their abuser without feeling uncomfortable.

A child being groomed for sexual relations often do not realize it, especially so if they are past the age of consent.

Why are such relationships with age gaps dubious at best?

The biggest problem of relationships involving teenagers or a young adult with a significantly older partner is the power imbalance.

Even if both parties are legally of age (over 18), such age gaps are still dubious because of the power imbalance it creates within the relationship. These kind of relationships are prone to involve manipulation, coercion, abuse, and violence.

The imbalance stems from all facets of the relationship, from finances to life experience, and the younger individual is almost always the victim of it, with consequences that stretch onto adulthood.

What about real people in relationships with large age-gaps?

The relationship involving a 40-year-old and a 55-year-old is starkly different from a relationship involving a 15-year-old and a 30-year-old despite both having a 15-year age gap.

However, when it comes to large age gaps involving minors or young adults, we must not normalize it just because “it is legal”. Legality is not a basis for moral behaviour, and subjects minors to dangerous predators.

The “rule” makes an appearance on the American TV show Parks & Recreation.
(Credit: NBC)

If in doubt, there is a popular mathematical formula to help you figure it out, popularly coined as “half your age plus seven”. It is a rough guideline for acceptable age gaps according to your age.

The formula is to take your own age, divide by 2, then add 7 to find the minimum age acceptable for your relationship. Similarly, to find the maximum age acceptable for your relationship, subtract your age by 7, then multiply by 2.

For instance, if we follow this guideline, someone at the age of 18 should have a dating range of 16 to 22 years old, which is a much more reasonable age gap.


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