The need for sex education in Malaysia


Another day, another young woman gives birth to a child out of wedlock, and yet another stabs her baby in an attempt to hide her shame at being unmarried.

This week, a 15-year-old girl was found in the surau of her school, a newborn on her chest with its umbilical cord still attached to her. Across the sea, a 24-year-old girl was arrested in East Java for allegedly stabbing her newborn baby with a pair of scissors, putting the child in a bag of cement and throwing the bag behind her house. When she was brought out in front of a press conference and asked why she did it, she reportedly responded: “Malu, belum nikah” (I was ashamed, I am not yet married).

These incidents are horrifyingly common in this region, and it cannot be denied that there is an appalling lack of sex education in this country. Instead, most youth get their education from whatever is available online – and while there are plenty of great resources out there, not everyone will come across the right thing.

I realise that advocating sex education and the benefits of contraception is often seen by our conservative society as promoting “free sex” and encouraging promiscuity. But it’s been proven time and time again that sex education can reduce the rate of unwanted pregnancies.

For instance, the UK was able to halve its teenage pregnancy rate thanks to the implementation of government-supported, nationwide schemes focusing on education and awareness on every level – health, social care, youth services, and so on.

Nearly every borough in London has its own sexual health clinic that anyone can walk into, and contraception in any form is free. Reliable and extensive information is easily accessible from anyone who works with young people, and this is exactly what the country needed to bring down the rates.

The Burnet Institute, which focuses on medical research, reported last year that although “more of the nearly one billion young people in Asia and the Pacific region are having sex than ever before”, it is difficult to access critical information and these young people are ill-equipped to handle relationships.

Lead researcher Dr Elissa Kennedy, Burnet Principal-Maternal and Child Health, said in a statement: “An increasing number of young people in the region are sexually active, even though there are still really strong social, cultural and religious taboos around pre-marital sex.

“So we are finding with globalisation and urbanisation and access to the media, young people’s attitudes, behaviours and values are changing much more rapidly than their parents’ and policymakers’,” she said.

“This sets up a really big mismatch of what young people are doing, what they need and what communities and policymakers think they should get.”

The sex education we get in schools in Malaysia is minimal. It’s mostly biological – this is what your penis is for, this is what your vagina is for. Schools don’t teach us about consent, or that there are contraceptive options, or what a healthy sexual relationship looks like. No one tells you that in the event of a rape, the morning-after pill is available at some pharmacies.

If you go to a religious body, youth are only taught that abstinence and purity are the absolute most important things about them as a person. The exploration of one’s sexual identity is a hard no-go zone. Don’t even think about condom distribution!

Young people are bound to become curious about sex, and this is merely a fact of life. Threats of fire and brimstone are not going to stem the swelling wave of hormones, among other things.

We should be equipping them with information that will help them make the right decisions for themselves, rather than withholding it in hopes that they’ll just not do it. The internet is a wild place for young people to be teaching themselves from. Instead, the institutions that uphold them should be able to control the narrative of sex education.

Teach boys that wearing a condom is an important way to protect both parties from unwanted pregnancies and STDs. Teach girls that discussing contraceptive options with their doctors is a totally acceptable, and ultimately responsible, thing to do. Teach teenagers that protecting themselves and one another is in their best interests as sexually active human beings.

We need to do better by our young people, and by doing so, we can prevent the untimely and unfortunate phenomenon of children having children.

The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.