GEORGE TOWN, Feb 14 — It is time the Malaysian government made comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) mandatory in the school syllabus to curb unwanted incidents such as unplanned pregnancies, women’s groups said today. 

They said CSE could provide teenagers with the right knowledge and information about sexual and reproductive health to better prepare them to face issues related to their sexuality and bodily autonomy. 

Sisters In Islam (SIS) communications officer Aleza Othman said CSE includes knowledge on contraceptions and sexually transmitted diseases, while also fostering healthy relationships with peers and adults to protect teenagers from sexual abuse and harassment. 

“CSE should be a standalone subject, not to be slipped in between physical education, religious and science subjects,” she said. 

Partner-director of KRYSS Network Angela M. Kuga Thas said CSE should be delivered in a non-judgmental manner.

She said CSE includes teaching students how to manage peer pressure around sex, deal with the expectations of others and decide what happens to their bodies, instead of merely being told what to do. 

She added that boys should also be taught not to exploit girls and learn from CSE modules on how to manage relationships with girls and how to handle rejection. 

“The fact that rape culture is there, that it was even joked about, and how normalised that is, it is overdue we have CSE,” she said. 

Aleza said parents need to be more open on the subject of sexuality and be the first source of information about sex for their children.

“No doubt that conversation on sex and sex education is uneasy to parents and children but it should be normalised and held from time to time,” she said.

She said parents should not rely solely on schools and teachers to educate their children about sex.

She said incidents of unplanned pregnancies among teenagers often left the young girls feeling alone and too scared to come forward as they believed that they were at fault. 

“To make things worse, society in general is not supportive, non-receptive, punitive and judgmental towards pregnant teenagers,” she said. 

She said these teenagers are often blamed, severely judged, faced discrimination and do not receive any support so they do not know who to approach or what to do, and this may lead to desperate actions. 

“It is crucial for adults, especially parents, to provide support and care for the teenager,” she said.

She said if there are any untoward situations, parents and their teenagers can seek help from various non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that provide support such as All Women's Action Society (AWAM), Women's Aid Organisation (WAO), and Talian Kasih 15999. 

There are also NGOs that advocate Sexual Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR), such as Reproductive Rights Advocacy Alliance Malaysia (RRAAM) and Federation of Reproductive Health Associations Malaysia (FRHAM), she added. 

Meanwhile, WAO Advocacy Officer Kiran Kaur said there is an urgent need to adopt an approach that centres on collective responsibility and the best interests of the child at every turn to prevent incidents, such as the case where a 15-year-old girl was detained for allegedly stabbing her newborn baby.  

She said there must be adequate resources available to create an integrated network where every level of society is involved to provide holistic services to child survivors of sexual violence. 

However, the creation of a safe space for girls to talk about sexual relations and violations is also important, said Angela.

She said a punitive kind of culture still exists which means there is a lack of safe spaces for girls to get help. 

“What should be done is to encourage discourse, encourage them to talk about it, even if it was a mistake.

“There should be a safe space for them to talk about it and to help them grow from it instead of being punished,” she said. 

She said pregnant teenagers should not be taken out of school but allowed to continue with their education for the sake of their future. 

“There needs to be a mindshift on the right to education, not only the fact about children going to school, but the fact that they feel safe to learn what they need to learn especially content that is important to them including sex education,” Angela said. 

She said there is a need to create non-judgmental safe spaces within educational institutions for students so that they have a place to go to if they needed counselling or assistance for any issues including sexual harassment cases. 

“We feel that above all, the right to education for girls needs to be protected and upheld in ways that ensure their safety, from stigma, discrimination and violence, including punitive measures, and their self determination and bodily autonomy,” she added. 

She also proposed that peer support groups be established as teenagers will feel more comfortable approaching their peers for help. 

“Mainstreaming gender issues is also important and this can be made mainstream in one of the subjects such as a language or biology classes,” she said.

“If more people understand gender issues from primary to secondary to college, this can create a more enabling environment in schools,” she added. 

Kiran reminded the government that Malaysia is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) but the policies and programmes to protect the wellbeing and welfare of the children are far from satisfactory. 

“The government is still hesitant about making CSE a mandatory and standalone subject in schools. The laws on child marriage have not been amended to raise the minimum age of marriage to 18 years old,” she pointed out. 

She reminded the government that children are a nation’s assets so the country should focus on developing policies that are more child-centred.