PETALING JAYA: A non-governmental organisation has expressed concern over the culture of child marriages in Malaysia as it feels that many parents view such unions as a "cover up" or a way out in cases of physical and sexual violence. "This is truly a misconception. In fact, child marriages put girls at risk of physical, sexual and psychological violence all through their lives. It is a gross violation of a girl's most basic rights," said Tenaganita executive director Glorene Das, who renewed calls for an end to such marriages. She said there have been cases where rapists charged with statutory rape were given a discharge by the courts after showing proof of marrying the young victims. She felt that "a rape is a rape" and this criminal offence must be dealt according to the Penal Code. "We are against child marriages anywhere ... what more when rapists marry the under-aged victims as a form of remedy or redress," she said. "Perpetrators of the offence must be charged and prosecuted or it will continue to send a clear message that violence against young women and girls can be excused in the name of religion, tradition and culture," she said. Meanwhile, the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) said it is committed to ending child marriage in Malaysia and is working in partnership with government agencies and other stakeholders for children through the UNFPA-Unicef Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage. The multi-country initiative focuses on increasing girls' access to education, educating parents and communities on the dangers of child marriage, increasing economic support to families, and strengthening and enforcing laws that establish 18 as the minimum age of marriage. Unicef said parents may consent to child marriages to avoid shame due to premarital sex and pregnancy outside marriage or as a way to provide "male guardianship" for their daughters. "As Malaysia journeys towards achieving high-income nation status, a move that is supported by contributions by all members of society, it is even more crucial that all children in the country have equal rights and equal access to services and opportunities to achieve their full potential," it said.