PETALING JAYA: Terengganu’s amended shariah laws which criminalise out-of-wedlock pregnancies and births appear to be unusually cruel to both mother and child, says a health advocacy group.
The Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy’s CEO Azrul Mohd Khalib said the state had failed to give any consideration to the health, protection and welfare of women and their children.
He said the state authorities had completely ignored the dangerous consequences the amended Syariah Criminal Offences Enactment 2022 will have on women and girls.
Azrul said women and girls in this country were still vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence.
This has been reflected in the data on pregnancies, maternal health and infant mortality where wanted, unwanted and unintended pregnancies occur every day.
“Will they feel that healthcare facilities such as women’s clinics are no longer safe spaces as their treatment and care can be used as evidence against them? Will access to contraceptives be jeopardised?
“Will women and girls be forced to seek out unsafe abortions due to a hostile climate?
“What if her pregnancy becomes life-threatening and it becomes a choice between getting prosecuted after seeking treatment or risking her life?” Azrul asked in a statement.
On Thursday, Terengganu shariah implementation, education and higher education committee chairman Satiful Bahri Mamat was reported as saying that these amendments include penalties of up to RM5,000, as well as imprisonment of no more than three years, a maximum six strokes of the rotan, or both.
Apart from criminalising out-of-wedlock pregnancies and birth, the shariah amendments also criminalise witchcraft and black magic, females dressing as men and sodomy.
Azrul was also concerned that the law would put healthcare workers in a difficult position as the dictum of “first do no harm” is embedded in the code of conduct of all healthcare professionals.
He asked whether healthcare workers were expected to report out-of-wedlock cases to the religious authorities when a woman or girl sought antenatal, perinatal and postpartum care for their pregnancy.
Azrul said that evidence and studies done in Malaysia and other countries clearly showed that punitive measures did not work.
“Such legislation instead creates unnecessary suffering, pain or humiliation for the woman and her child.
“Instead of punishing women and girls, we need to protect and improve access to contraception so that women can choose and plan their pregnancies,” he added.
Yesterday, 10 human rights groups issued a joint statement calling on the Malaysian human rights commission (Suhakam) to undertake an impact assessment on the shariah amendments.