Open letter to Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said on SOAC 2017 — Dr John Teo
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SEPTEMBER 12 — Dear Datuk Seri,
I must congratulate you and the government in the speedy gazettement and implementation of the SOAC 2017.
This was one of the fastest implementation of any Bill in Malaysian History with Parliament passing it on 4th April 2017 and its implementation on the 10th July 2017.
It was also an extremely proud moment to see you signing the Gazettement of this bill and putting into effect Malaysia’s total committment and resolve towards protecting our young and adolescence from sexual crimes and without a doubt, this bill will have the support of all.
In contrast the Private Healthcare Facilities and Services Act which was passed in 1998 and implemented only in 2006 and the Pathology Bill which was passed in 2007 have yet to see the light of the day after 10 years.
Children are our greatest assets and sexual crimes cannot be tolerated by any civilised society and together we hope to eradicate this scourge from our nation.
However, I wish to point out how far and wide the net has been cast with the definition of physical sexual assault in section 14 and the need to make police report by anyone in section 19 and its implications.
As the bill stands in its current form, All physical contact of sexual in nature irregardless of whether sexual intercourse has taken place is an offence involving any one below 18 years old and everyone who have knowledge of such an offence including health care professionals need to make police report.
This creates a situation whereby any physical contact in a consensual relationship in our youth is an offence as long as one partner is below 18 years old.
For example, a couple may be 17 and 19 years old respectively. I am sure you would agree that Consensual relationship among our youths are totally different from the sexual crimes and abuse that gave rise to the intentions of the bill.
The challenges are now there are no safe heaven for any young couples in a consensual relationship whereby even when they see healthcare professionals, police report will be made.
Comprehensive sexuality education which includes pregnancy prevention methods teachings as versus abstinence based sexuality education will now be more challenging to deliver and access to Sexual and reproductive health services made more difficult in the current criminalisation of consensual relationships in young couples.
Comprehensive Sexuality Education among young people within the legal and policy frameworks has always been one policy whereby there are strong international commitments.
These include the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The international agreements over the past decades such as the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in 1994, the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995 and the World Summit on Children in 2002 have extended the scope of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), by affirming the right of all children and adolescents to receive sexual and reproductive health (SRH) information, education and services in accordance with their specific needs.
Many NGO’s had suggested that the “ sweet heart defence” clause be inserted in the SOAC 2017 whereby consensual sexual relationship between youths with small age gaps be spared from the SOAC 2017 which was never the intent of the Act.
Annually, there are 13,000 to 17,000 teenage pregnancies and the 5th Malaysian Population and Family Survey in 2014 has shown that 2.3 per cent of our 13 to 17 year old are already sexually active with very poor sexual and reproductive health knowledge.
If i may paraphrase ” Michel Sidibé, executive director, UNAIDS who said “Preparing children and young people for the transition to adulthood has always been one of humanity’s great challenges, with human sexuality and relationship at its core.”
We need to provide our teenagers with Comprehensive Sexuality Education including knowledge about pregnancy prevention methods and access to contraceptives for those who are already sexually active.
The Statutory rape law has a age limit of 16 years old in the wisdom that some teenagers above those age may be mature enough to be in a normal consensual relationship.
Please insert the sweetheart defence clause into the SOAC without further delay. Education rather than criminalisation is the way forward towards decreasing Unintended pregnancies, abortions and baby dumping among our young.
Do you really want to sent a 19 years old to jail for having a kiss or a hug of his 17 year old girlfriend?
* Dr John Teo is a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist
** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.