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Decriminalise Suicide Attempts In Malaysia Now!

Author: Ziera Adurah

Editor: Mariam Zamri

Source: Google Image

Is attempting suicide really a crime? Well, in some parts of the world, it is. Among the ten ASEAN countries, Malaysia, Myanmar and Brunei had criminalised suicide attempts. Historically, laws against suicide have developed from a religious perspective where people believe that only God has the right to determine someone’s death. Attempting suicide in Malaysia is illegal according to Section 309 of the Penal Code of Malaysia, a legacy of British law which is still in place until today. As stated in the said law, those who attempt to commit suicide shall be punished with up to a year in jail, a fine, or both. In 2020, a 28-year-old unemployed man had attempted to commit suicide by jumping off the balcony of his apartment, but when the man was brought to the court, he was questioned instead what drove him to commit suicide. Consequently, the Malaysian Magistrate’s Court sentenced the man with a RM3,000 fine, and if he fails to do so, he will serve three months imprisonment in jail.

Suicide rate globally

According to The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Global Burden of Disease, the study shows that it is estimated almost 800,000 people die from suicide globally every year. That is the equivalent of one person committing suicide every 40 seconds. These are among the reported cases, the ones that were brought to light. These figures are also likely to be under-reported, with some suicide cases being classified as unintentional injuries. Globally, the number of people that die from suicide is around twice as many from those that die because of homicide. This makes it one of the leading causes of death globally. Suicide has become a global phenomenon especially in lower-middle-income countries where 79% of death caused from suicides in 2017 are from these countries only. According to a data source from World Bank, Malaysia’s suicide rate had increased drastically in 2015 by 5.88% from 2010.

Time to decriminalise suicide attempt in Malaysia

Suicide has always and still been viewed as a “sinful act” in various cultures around the world. Although there are countries that do not illegalise and criminalise the act, the stigma remains. Despite that, is it still relevant to be criminalising suicide? This legal provision of criminalising suicide that was enacted in 1936 is outdated. This is because society today has a better understanding of mental health compared to those before where mental health and mental illnesses, as well as its causes and treatments were not well-understood. Though our neighbouring country, Singapore, has repealed the law in 2020, Malaysia however, is still criminalising suicide attempts. Perhaps in the near future, Malaysia too will repeal the law of illegalising suicide because many citizens of this country are starting to demand the decriminalisation of suicide. In 2020, a youth group fighting for mental health awareness, started up a petition on for Attorney General Idrus Harun and the Dewan Rakyat to decriminalise the act. As of now, the petition has been signed by over 20,000 signatures. Several Malaysian officials have also spoken up about the issue. Moreover, Kampung Tunku state assemblyperson, Lim Yi Wei, on her Twitter account urged the government to consider imposing a moratorium on prosecuting attempted suicides. The Mental Health Advisory Council too has also urged the government to repeal the law.

In my opinion as a citizen of Malaysia, I myself too believe that suicide is not a crime. Rather than punishing these people for attempting suicide, we should find ways to assist them. If we continue to criminalise suicide attempts, these people will feel more discouraged to reach out for help. We as a nation should be helping people in need, not punish them.

Why suicide should not be a crime in Malaysia

The existing law of criminalising suicide is not an effective way in preventing suicide attempts. Therefore, netizens are starting to think that the legal provision under Section 309 of the Penal Code is useless. This law does not deter people from committing suicide, so why does it still exist? Many believe that the law itself is making it harder for suicidal people to reach out for help because they are afraid that they would be labelled as a criminal. Aside from that, decriminalising suicide will also help destigmatise mental health issues in Malaysia. Even until today, some Malaysians still think mental illness is a taboo topic. According to the National Health and Morbidity Survey, the numbers of depressive adults and children with mental health problems increased following the Covid-19 pandemic. It is important for the government to invest in strengthening mental health support for the people of Malaysia, by ensuring adequate psychiatrists, clinical psychologists and trained counsellors. To ensure all of these efforts work, the government must first decriminalise suicide attempts so people will not be afraid of reaching out for help.

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