It’s a cry for help, not crime

KUALA LUMPUR: Groups are asking for the abolishment of Section 309 of the Penal Code (Act 574) to be sped up now that the government has decided to decriminalise suicide.

The National Coalition for Mental Wellbeing (NCMW) called for the expeditious tabling of the relevant legislation in Parliament to decriminalise attempted suicide given that the issue has been longstanding.

It also called for the Bill to repeal Section 309 to be tabled in the current Parliament meeting, saying there was a need to act with urgency on this matter.

“In the interim, the NCMW proposes that the government maintain its commitment by withdrawing all pending charges under Section 309 and impose a moratorium on any new charges under the same section.

“We thank the Home Minister, Health Minister and the Attorney General’s Chambers for the proposal to abolish Section 309,” the NCMW decriminalisation focus group said in a statement yesterday.

Alliance for Safe Community chairman and Befrienders KL patron Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye said the repeal must be expedited as those who attempted suicide should not be treated as criminals, but as people needing psychosocial support and psychiatric help.

“The other call is to withdraw pending charges under Section 309 and impose a moratorium to ensure that there are no new arrests under this law while it is being decriminalised.

“This is very important while we wait for the law to be amended.

“The Attorney General and other authorities must expedite the process because saying in Parliament that the government has agreed to abolish the law is one thing and actually delivering on it is another,” said Lee.

He added that decriminalisation of the law was crucial to ensure that those with mental health problems will be given the space to share their problems without fear of persecution.

Taylor’s University Centre for Human Excellence and Development director Assoc Prof Dr Anasuya Jegathevi Jegathesan said decriminalising suicide attempts would greatly remove the stigma attached to mental health issues and spur people to seek help.

“It will remove the stigma as suicide attempts will no longer be seen as a crime, and for what it really is, which is not a criminal act but an act of great desperation by individuals who are in pain.

“Now with the decriminalisation of the law, if nothing else, it will help people to reach out.

“A lot of family members are hesitant to report that their child or someone in the family had attempted suicide or obtain help for them because they are afraid that the person will be arrested.

“In turn, individuals do not get the treatment that is needed because there is a fear of being punished,” she added.

On Thursday, Deputy Health Minister Datuk Aaron Ago Dagang told the Dewan Rakyat that the Home Ministry and Attorney General’s Chambers were agreeable to abolishing the section which criminalises attempted suicide.

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