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Charge With Infanticide Not Murder

Sarawak Women for Women Society, Press Release - 14 February 2022

Sarawak Women for Women Society (SWWS) applauds the statement from the Parliamentary Special Select Committee (PSSC) for Women, Children and Social Development reminding the authorities that when a mother appears to have ended her child’s life within 24 hours after birth that she should be charged with infanticide not murder and have access to legal and psychological support.

When such tragedies occur the understandable concern for the deceased infant often stops people from considering the distress the mother has been in to have led her to such a desperate act. 

In the recent case in Terengganu, which prompted the statement from the PSSC, a 15-year-old girl who had just given birth to an infant conceived through rape was swiftly removed from hospital to lock-up as she had allegedly stabbed the child.  This despite the mother being a traumatized child whose own well-being, under the Child Act (2001), needs to be guiding how all authorities respond.

Infanticide is in the Penal Code as it is recognised such tragic actions occur when a woman is in a post-partum emotional state and usually has given birth in circumstances which are socially stigmatizing and isolating.

Such legislation has a long history.  In UK it was first enacted in 1922 as it was felt unjust women driven by social and economic hardship faced the death penalty which was the punishment for murder. Indeed, for almost a century before, the death sentence for women in such circumstances had always been commuted, yet in Malaysia in the twenty first century, women and children are still being charged with murder under section 302 of the Penal Code instead of infanticide under Section 309A.

This needs to change. SWWS calls for clear SOPS to be developed and implemented to ensure that when such traumatic, tragic incidents occur the perpetrator is charged with infanticide and treated humanely, including immediate access to medical, psychiatric and legal services. 

When the mother is under 18 the Child Protection Officer from JKM should ensure the young traumatised mother is able to reside in a safe, supportive place while charges are being investigated and make recommendations to the judge thereafter.

 SWWS also supports the recommendation from the PSSC that children should have access to free legal services whenever they are in conflict with the law. Both of these are in keeping with the guiding principles of the Child Act (2001) of adhering to the best interests of the child as prescribed by the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child to which Malaysia is a signatory.

To ensure such needed change is effectively implemented training of all parties on the proposed SOPS needs to be incorporated into the plan of action and resources allocated to ensure all so charged before the courts, regardless of their economic background, have the services of a lawyer.