Law fails to see the bigger picture


THE Malaysian Paediatric Association (MPA) notes with much apprehension the recent announcement by the Terengganu state executive councillor in charge of syariah implementation and education, who plans to maximise the penalties associated with “an act preparatory to sexual intercourse out of wedlock”.

Muslim women found guilty of out-of-wedlock pregnancy and childbirth will be liable to a fine not exceeding RM3,000, or imprisonment up to two years, or both.

It is as yet unclear whether rape victims or healthcare professionals who provide antenatal care to these unmarried, gravid women would be exempted from these new provisions in the law.

Notwithstanding, this act of criminalisation of pregnant unmarried woman fails to grasp the bigger picture of this social ill, which will impact adversely on the fate of these women and their unborn child.

1. Pregnancies out of wedlock, often teenage pregnancies, are a consequence of multiple factors. Among surveyed 13-year-olds to 17-year-olds, 7.3% had already had sex. Thirty-five per cent of young females believe they cannot get pregnant the first time they have sex, and 45 teenage girls give birth every day. Sixty-six per cent first learnt about sex from watching pornography, and from friends. Only 16% first learnt about sex in school (10%) and from parents (6%).

2. Our sexually active youths resort to these sources of sex information due to the paucity of a comprehensive life and reproductive education programme to educate them.

3. Resorting to punitive measures instead of education will discourage these unmarried young mothers to seek help. They will instead attempt to get rid of the problem, resulting in babies being abandoned in unsafe places.

4. The MPA is alarmed at the rate of babies being dumped in unsafe places and endangering their lives. The police report of an average of 100 cases per year represent only the tip of the iceberg. A large proportion of abandoned cases may have gone undetected. Other unmarried mothers may have given their babies up for adoption privately or undergone illegal abortions, some in the hands of unqualified practitioners, resulting in complications to their long-term health and even death.

5. Unwanted pregnancies and child abandonment are real problems in Malaysia. The couple – boy and girl (the former tends to get off scot free) – may have made a “mistake” but their baby is absolutely innocent. He or she did not choose to be an unwanted child and should not be penalised by being abandoned and left to die. The higher objectives of the syariah (Maqasid Syariah) protects their right to life (nafs), and preserves their intellect (aql) and progeny (nasl).

The MPA therefore urges the authorities to:

1. Provide a comprehensive life and reproductive education and information programme to all adolescents. Research has shown that this decreases high-risk sexual behaviour and increases the age when a person becomes sexually active.

2. Organise awareness campaigns on the harmful impact of teen pregnancy on health, academic pursuits and social well-being.

3. Provide non-judgemental services, compassion and support for girls and their partners faced with unintended pregnancies irrespective of age, race, religion or marital status.

4. Protect the physical and mental health of the girl with an unwanted pregnancy through the provision of safe and empathetic antenatal services.

5. Provide information and access to effective and safe contraceptive services.

6. Prevent dropouts from school. Keeping teens in school till secondary level has proven to reduce high-risk behaviours, including teen pregnancy.

7. Assist families with financial difficulties to enable teens to continue schooling.

EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE

Malaysian Paediatric Association

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letters , syariah , pregnancy , childbirth

   

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