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JULY 20 — The past decade has witnessed a constant stream of reported baby dumping cases in Malaysia. The predominative narrative has often consisted of blaming the women who are forced to turn to this method as a method of resolving their unwanted pregnancy Better access to safe and affordable contraceptive and abortion services is required for women and girls to make better reproductive choices.
Many young girls and women face unwanted pregnancies due to limited access to information, contraception and the lack of access to sexual and reproductive health services. This often impacts their educational options, when they are forced to drop out of school or university due to lack of support and societal stigma. Stigma not only prevents access to information and the needed health services, in addition, it creates a barrier for society to discuss such issues in an empathetic and non-judgmental manner that prioritises the well-being of girls and women facing unintended pregnancies.
Baby dumping is a symptom of the larger prevailing issue. Girls and women resort to this unsafe and psychologically traumatic means of dealing with unintended pregnancy for various reasons, a major reason being the lack of structural support and societal empathy needed to support their sexual and reproductive health choices.
Despite harsh laws in place to deter teen pregnancies and baby dumping, reports indicate an average of over 100 babies dumped annually. According to Royal Malaysia Police (PDRM) statistics, one reported case of baby dumping every three days is just the tip of the iceberg, as these only highlight cases that have been discovered. Given the secrecy surrounding the issue, we cannot even begin to comprehend how many occurrences actually happen nationwide due the fact that many occurrences often go unreported.
We staunchly advocate the following prevention strategies, not only to protect the rights of girls and women, but also to curb an increasingly serious social illness:
- Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE). The primary prevention method provides education and information on how to protect oneself during sex and how to handle an unwanted pregnancy safely. Research has shown that sex education decreases high risk sexual behaviour and increases the age when a person becomes sexually active.
- Contraception. All persons require information on and access to different methods of contraception to suit their lifestyles. Additionally, providing non-judgmental contraceptive services is crucial due to existing fears of “being lectured”. Such behaviour, although well-meaning, creates alienation, particularly for youth who require access to sexual health and reproductive health services, thus forcing them to make decisions in the dark.
- Termination of Pregnancy (TOP). Many women are unable to identify safe abortion services. As a result, many turn to unregistered pills sold online or baby dumping through inhumane means. Efforts to destigmatise abortions will significantly reduce baby dumping cases, provide more opportunities for girls and women to continue their education, progress in their careers, avoid financial burden and stress, and altogether reduce the toll an unwanted pregnancy takes on their physical and mental health.
- Non-judgmental services. Unprejudiced support for advanced pregnancy terminations and delivery for unintended pregnancies need to be implemented, in both public and private medical services. Healthcare workers have a powerful part to play in providing non-judgmental and empathetic support services to girls and women facing unintended pregnancies, regardless of age, race, religion or marital status.
The measures taken by the 18-year-old girl in Penang (currently facing murder charges, which carry the death penalty upon conviction) is only one symptom of our failed system. Many young girls and women lack information to prevention strategies, as well as the needed support to handle unintended pregnancies. Societal pressures only create fear and panic, particularly for young girls and women who realise all too well the stigma unmarried women are subject to, when facing an unintended pregnancy.
Constricting access to information and denying access to health rights, subject young girls and women to a position of weakness and utter fear, and impacts their ability to make informed and empowered decisions. We believe that both society and government institutions are well-situated to play a powerful and positive role to destigmatise discussions on baby dumping, promote access to sexual health and reproductive health rights and create a less judgmental society for girls and women.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.