We, Malaysian doctors from the Malaysian Doctors for Women and Children condemn the criminalisation of out-of-wedlock pregnancies within the Syariah Criminal Offences Enactment 2022 in Section 29A by the Terengganu State and other similar laws practised by other states in Malaysia.
We understand that this law is only applicable to Malaysian Muslims aged 16 years old and above and is applicable to both male and female counterparts, of which its initial charges and possible punitive measures can only be carried out after the birth of the child.
The maximum punishment that can be meted out are three years’ imprisonment, RM5,000 fine, and six strokes of the cane. It is up to the judges to practise leniency and compassion depending on the circumstances.
Rather than criminalising out-of-wedlock pregnancies, focus should be given to comprehensive sexuality education.
Criminalising out-of-wedlock pregnancies will not deter Muslims from engaging in sexual activity outside of marriages, should they feel motivated to do so.
Unfortunately, abstinence-based sex education is not effective in preventing teen pregnancies.
Rather, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural OrganiZation (UNESCO) found in 87 studies that sex education programmes did not lead to earlier sexual activity onset, with a third of the studies observed decreased sexual activity frequency, and more than a third leading to less sexual partners.
Comprehensive sexuality education does not and should not only entail sexual intercourse and contraceptives — rather, at the minimum, by virtue of its name, should be accompanied with educating students on relationships, sexuality, sexual roles, gender relations, social pressures to become sexually active, as well as the dangers of sexting and online pornography, and sexual harassment.
It should also include Malaysian abortion laws, the availability of baby hatches, and information on how to contact authorities in case of suffering from sexual abuse or domestic violence.
And for Muslims, perhaps, to include the sanctity of marriage and lineage in an informative and non-judgemental manner.
Importantly, if we want to talk to students about sex, we should talk about parental responsibilities.
The criminalisation of out-of-wedlock pregnancies is inhumane and cruel. This law will only capture a select group of Muslim women who did not manage to prevent, end, or conceal their pregnancies effectively.
We refer to an article by the New Straits Times on December 10, 2022 titled Muslim medical practitioners voice support for Terengganu law to criminalise out-of-wedlock pregnancy.
Whether or not it is immoral to engage in pre-marital sex, it is clearly more immoral and unethical to allow unwanted pregnancies to progress, leading to undesirable marriages on an imbalanced power structure, further sexual abuse and domestic violence, unwanted children with parent(s) that could not care for them, or worse, infanticide.
Doctors and health care professionals should not allow their religious opinions to form their judgements on what is moral or immoral for their patients, especially when there are two lives at stake – the mother and the child.
The full statement from Malaysian Doctors for Women and Children, which is also available in Malay can be viewed here.
- This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Ova.