Two days ago, the newspapers carried the sad story of a 24-year-old college student who had dumped her baby at a refuse bin at her apartment at Muara Tabuan, Kuching. The baby was found dead and it was reported that the young mother would now be charged with murder which carries a death penalty.
The story has whipped up emotions and various reactions from our society. While many sympathised with the baby whose life was snuffed out within a few hours, just as many are sympathising with the young mother whose promising future now hangs in the balance.
Many reasons could be given for the seemingly callous act and these could include the decline in moral standards in society, insufficient sex education, cultural and family background, the castigation from society of unwed mothers and the failure by families and schools to impart moral values to their children. These are all the factors which could have forced the young woman to abandon her baby.
While I was deeply saddened by what happened to the baby and no mitigation can ever excuse the baby dumping and yet as a mother myself, I deeply sympathise with the young woman who, probably in a moment of bad judgment, has now messed up not only her own life but also that of her parents who must have placed high hopes on her by providing her with tertiary education.
The glaring question which faces our government now is, how best can the authorities curb this problem in our society, which had seen 45 cases in Sarawak for the past six years. And if this problem is not properly addressed, this number can be expected to escalate in the coming years.
While the law is clear in that the college student would now be facing a murder charge, I urge the authorities that instead of scratching on the surface of this deep-seated problem by bringing the woman to book, they need to look into the underlying causes of this grave social ill. The authorities need to access the level of desperation which had forced a college student to throw away her baby.
Could she have been not only ditched by her boyfriend but punished by society for an act deemed immoral? Was she of a purely criminal mind when she dumped the little baby or it was fear of the unknown that had driven her up the wall?
Although we, as a society may sit on the judgment seat and condemn the young woman for her terrible mistake, however it would not hide nor diminish the fact that instead of punishing women who had given birth to babies out of wedlock, our government should make known to the public of any resources or support that can be given to young unwed mothers everywhere.
Once we are able to curb the fear of having babies out of wedlock and being consequently judged by society, perhaps we may be able to prevent further similar happenings. In this respect, I fully commend ‘Baby Hatch’ which was launched in Kuching by KPJ Kuching Specialist Hospital and One Stop Teenage Pregnancy Committee. This ‘Baby Hatch’ should be extended to elsewhere in Sarawak for easy access for similar cases happening outside Kuching.
The government should also make sex education compulsory in secondary schools. Resources in the forms of governmental-issued flyers or leaflets should also be distributed among teenagers and young adults to make them aware of available assistance as well as the grave legal consequence of acts like baby dumpings and abortions.
In another recent news, following the remarks made by MP Shabudin Yahaya that it is acceptable for rapists to marry their victims of statutory rape, a man charged with rape in Kuching had reportedly said that he wished to marry his pregnant 13 year old victim.
I commend the police for reiterating that it would still be rape even if he had wished to marry the victim. However, the state government needs to take serious note that such remarks by irresponsible lawmakers may cause a worrying spike in the numbers of statutory rape in Malaysia. I therefore urge the state government to strongly denounce such remark even though it had emanated from a member of their own political party.
Positive steps have to be taken to ensure that people do not think that it is an acceptable norm to rape children, as long as the perpetrator will marry his victim.
In this respect, I urge a ban against child marriages which was not included as an offence in the just tabled Sexual Offences Against Children Bill in parliament recently. It defies logic and sensibility to pass a law against committing Sexual Offences against Children while condoning child marriages which are allowed under the Syariah law and the Sarawak Native Customary law.
IRENE MARY CHANG OI LING is state assemblyperson for Bukit Assek.- Mkini