OCTOBER 11 — In 2011, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly announced 11 October as the International Day of the Girl Child, to recognise girls’ rights and the unique challenges they face globally. On this occasion, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (the Commission) affirms the importance of investing in adolescent girls’ empowerment and rights. This year’s celebration is themed “The Power of the Adolescent Girl: Vision For 2030”.
The UN General Assembly on 26 September 2015 adopted a determined 2030 Agenda for sustainable development comprising 17 goals and 169 targets. These goals, embodying a universally shared common global and vision of progress emphasise, among others, the importance of ending child, early and forced marriage to empower all women and girls and achieve gender equality (Goal 5). This set of Goals have been accepted by Malaysia, as well as all other UN Member States.
In regard to Goal 5 as highlighted, the Commission calls on all stakeholders to recognise and address the need to find effective approaches to sexual and reproductive education in primary and secondary schools. Such an education must promote human rights, advance gender equality, and improve sexual and reproductive health and must be accompanied by scientific, detailed, realistic and non-judgmental information as early marriage and cases of baby-dumping are on the rise in Malaysia.
According to statistics from the Malaysian Syariah Judiciary Department (JKSM) in 2012, there were some 1,165 applications for marriage where one partner was below the legal age of marriage. In the first quarter of 2014, 26 baby dumping cases were reported in the media. While the Commission notes that several programmes, including the National Policy and Plan of Action on Reproductive Health and Social Education (Dasar Pekerti) have been introduced, the Commission is concerned with the success rate of these programmes as these statistics indicate that a significant percentage of Malaysian adolescents are either without access to effective sexual health education or suffer from a lack of knowledge in order to make transformative decisions concerning their sexual and reproductive health. As a result, they may be vulnerable to coercion, sexually transmitted infections and/or unintended pregnancy and early marriage.
Accordingly, the Commission calls for a full review of the programmes with a strong emphasis on the lasting psychological consequences of early marriage and advises that all Malaysians, including children, have a fundamental right to the information and services necessary to protect their sexual health.
While the Commission appreciates the sensitivity of the issue, it is of the opinion that far-reaching improvements in legislation and policy are needed to advance Malaysia’s performance in this area as it aspires to attain a developed nation status in five years.
* Datuk Dr Khaw Lake Tee, acting chairman, on behalf of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam).
** This is the opinion of the writer or organistion and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.