'We had no choice': Orang Asli women claim subjected to unwanted birth control medication

Nicholas said the birth control policy among Orang Asli women went as far back as Dr Mahathir’s first administration as prime minister. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Nicholas said the birth control policy among Orang Asli women went as far back as Dr Mahathir’s first administration as prime minister. — Picture by Hari Anggara

KUALA LUMPUR, July 9 — Orang Asli women are claiming they have been subjected to unwanted family planning by health authorities, who injected them with medication which they say has both short and long-term side effects.

Several of these women, ethnic Temiar from villages around Gerik in Hulu Perak, were present at Parliament today to hand over a memorandum of understanding to the government detailing their plight, which includes this issue.

Only two were willing to talk to the press about this, such as Lina Linda, from Kampung Ong Jelmol. The 20-something mother of one said she took the medication via injection earlier this month.

“I told them I did not want it, because I heard from others who took it that it can cause you to lose sensation in your body, stomach aches, and others. But in the end I had to take it,” she told reporters following the memorandum’s handover.

Adding that she underwent the procedure early this month, Linda said for several days after her body often felt heavy whenever she woke up in the morning.

A more serious case is that of her fellow villager Sanorah, in her 30s, who received a similar injection around five years ago.

“After the injection, my whole body felt painful all over. I was more or less forced to take the injection. Shortly after that, I became pregnant with my fourth child.

“When he was born, his right hand was not fully formed. I think it could be due to the medicine they made us take,” she said sadly.

Sanorah also noted the medication came in liquid form, which some of the women in her village of child-bearing age had to take. Like Lina, she said many of them felt dizzy and uncomfortable after taking it.

Centre of Orang Asli Concerns coordinator Colin Nicholas, who was also present at the handover, said the belief that the Orang Asli’s poverty stemmed from their many offspring was very common.

“The women do not like it because they do not seem to have a choice, and some complain of the side effects from the medication.

“From my understanding, this has been going on for a long time, as far back as Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s first administration as prime minister when he aimed for Malaysia’s population to reach 70 million,” he said.

During the 1980s, Dr Mahathir said the 70 million population target was to ensure the country became a self-sustaining market, and to that end announced various tax incentives to encourage Malaysians to have more children. The national population at the time was short of 20 million.

“At the time, it was also to increase the Bumiputera population, for the Malays in particular. At the same time, part of the policy also involved birth control among the Orang Asli.

“This went on until the 1990s. The problem is that the Orang Asli were given the family planning and birth control medication without providing them with full knowledge and information,” Nicholas said.

He added that although some Orang Asli communities are now better informed of their rights, there are others who remain in the dark.

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