KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 14 — Sarawak Women for Women Society (SWWS) today called for the authorities to rethink the way it investigates cases involving young mothers who end their child’s life under distress.

The group said these cases should be categorised as infanticide and not murder, taking take into account the condition that had led the distress the mother to commit the desperate act.

The group said it welcomes the statement from the Parliamentary Special Select Committee for Women, Children and Social Development reminding the authorities that when a mother appears to have ended her child’s life within 24 hours after birth, she should be charged with infanticide and not murder and have access to legal and psychological support.

“When such tragedies occur the understandable concern for the deceased infant often stops people from considering the distress the mother has been in to have led her to such a desperate act,” it said in a statement.

The PSSC statement was issued after news reports emerged that a 15-year-old girl in Terengganu who had just given birth to an infant conceived through rape was swiftly removed from hospital to lock-up as she had allegedly stabbed the child.

 “This despite the mother being a traumatised child whose own well-being, under the Child Act (2001), needs to be guiding how all authorities respond,” the group said.

Infanticide is in the Penal Code as it is recognised such tragic actions occur when a woman is in a post-partum emotional state and usually has given birth in circumstances which are socially stigmatising and isolating.

SWWS said the legislation has a long history. In the UK, it was first enacted in 1922 as it was felt unjust that women driven by social and economic hardship faced the death penalty which was the punishment for murder.

“Indeed for almost a century before, the death sentence for women in such circumstances had always been commuted, yet in Malaysia in the twenty first century, women and children are still being charged with murder under section 302 of the Penal Code instead of infanticide under Section 309A,” it noted.

Two days ago, the Parliamentary Special Select Committee on Women, Children and Social Development pushed forward several recommendations when dealing with children who are in conflict with the law.

Its chairwoman Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said said all children in conflict with the law in Malaysia be accorded free legal representation, from the point of detention until the completion of the criminal justice process so the children are fully protected.

The SWWS supported Azalina’s suggestions, and called for clear SOPS to be developed and implemented.

“When the mother is under 18, the Child Protection Officer from Welfafe Department (JKM) should ensure the young traumatised mother is able to reside in a safe, supportive place while charges are being investigated and make recommendations to the judge thereafter,” it said.

The group also supported the recommendation from the PSSC that children should have access to free legal services whenever they are in conflict with the law.

“Both of these are in keeping with the guiding principles of the Child Act (2001) of adhering to the best interests of the child as prescribed by the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child to which Malaysia is a signatory,” it said.