Open letter to Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said on SOAC 2017 — Dr John Teo

SEPTEMBER 12 — Dear Datuk Seri,

I must congratulate  you and the government in the speedy  gazettement and implementation of the SOAC 2017.

This was one of the fastest implementation of any Bill in Malaysian History with Parliament passing it on 4th April 2017 and its implementation on the 10th July 2017.

It was also an extremely proud moment to see you signing the Gazettement of this bill and putting into effect Malaysia’s total committment and resolve towards protecting our young and adolescence from sexual crimes and without a doubt, this bill will have the support of all.

In contrast the Private Healthcare  Facilities and Services  Act which was passed in 1998 and implemented only in 2006 and the Pathology Bill which was passed in 2007 have yet to see the light of the day after 10 years.

Children are our greatest assets and sexual crimes cannot be tolerated by any civilised society and together we hope to eradicate this scourge from our nation.

However, I wish to point out how far and wide the net has been cast with the definition of physical sexual assault in section 14 and the need to make police report by anyone in section 19 and its implications.

As the bill stands in its current form, All physical contact of sexual in nature irregardless of whether sexual intercourse has taken place is an offence involving any one below 18 years old  and everyone who have knowledge  of such an offence including health care professionals need to make police report.

This creates a situation  whereby any physical contact in a consensual relationship in our youth is an offence as long as one partner is below 18 years old.

For example, a couple may be 17 and 19 years old respectively. I am sure you would agree that Consensual relationship among our youths are totally different from the sexual crimes and abuse that gave rise to the intentions of the bill.

The challenges  are now there are no safe heaven for any young couples in a consensual relationship  whereby even when they see healthcare professionals, police report will be made.

Comprehensive sexuality education which includes pregnancy prevention methods teachings as versus abstinence based sexuality education will now be more challenging to deliver and access to Sexual and reproductive health services made more  difficult in the current criminalisation of consensual relationships in young couples.

Comprehensive Sexuality  Education among young people  within the legal  and  policy  frameworks  has always been one policy whereby there are  strong  international  commitments. 

These  include  the  Convention  on  the  Rights  of  the  Child,  the  International Covenant  on  Economic,  Social  and  Cultural  Rights,  the  Committee  on  the  Elimination  of Discrimination  against  Women  (CEDAW),  and  the  Convention  on  the  Rights  of  Persons  with Disabilities. 

The  international  agreements  over  the  past  decades  such  as  the  International Conference  on  Population  and  Development  (ICPD)  in  1994,  the  Fourth  World  Conference  on Women  in  1995  and  the  World  Summit  on  Children  in  2002  have  extended  the  scope  of  the Convention  on  the  Rights  of  the  Child  (CRC),  by  affirming  the  right  of  all  children  and  adolescents  to receive  sexual  and  reproductive  health  (SRH)  information,  education  and  services  in  accordance  with their  specific  needs.

Many NGO’s had suggested that the “ sweet heart defence” clause be inserted in the SOAC 2017 whereby consensual sexual relationship between youths with small age gaps be spared from the SOAC 2017 which was never the intent of the Act.

Annually, there are 13,000 to 17,000 teenage pregnancies and the 5th Malaysian Population and Family Survey in 2014 has shown that 2.3 per cent of our 13 to 17 year old are already sexually active with very poor sexual and reproductive health knowledge.

If i may paraphrase ” Michel  Sidibé,  executive  director,  UNAIDS who said “Preparing  children  and  young  people  for  the transition  to  adulthood  has  always  been  one  of humanity’s  great  challenges,  with  human sexuality  and  relationship  at  its  core.”

We need to provide our teenagers with Comprehensive Sexuality Education including knowledge about pregnancy prevention methods and access to contraceptives for those who are already sexually active.

The Statutory rape law has a age limit of 16 years old in the wisdom that some teenagers above those age may be mature enough to be in a normal consensual relationship.

Please insert the sweetheart defence clause into the SOAC without further delay. Education rather than criminalisation is the way forward towards decreasing Unintended pregnancies, abortions and baby dumping among our young.

Do you really want to sent a 19 years old to jail  for having a kiss or a hug of his 17 year old girlfriend?

* Dr John Teo is a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist

** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.

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