Groups repeat call to decriminalise attempted suicide

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PETALING JAYA: Several groups have renewed their call for Section 309 of the Penal Code, which makes attempted suicide a crime, to be repealed as well as charges against those who have survived suicide attempts be dropped.

They also asked that an immediate moratorium be imposed against the move to punish suicide survivors under the law.

Datuk Dr Venugopal Balchand, who is decriminalisation focus group chairman of the National Coalition of Mental Wellbeing (NCMW) initiated by Rotary Malaysia, said an urgent repeal is timely as suicide rates have “skyrocketed” amid the pandemic.

“It is not an issue of crime; victims should not be hauled up to the police or remanded. They should be sent to a medical institution.

“But our laws treat these individuals like criminals and deny them the psychological treatment that they need.

“Things would change if the law is repealed – people with mental health issues would be more willing to come forward for treatment and the stigma associated with mental illness will be addressed more holistically,” he said yesterday.

An average of four suicide cases daily was reported for the first three months of 2021, according to Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, who recently said that the number of suicide cases reported to the police rose to 631 in 2020 from 609 the previous year.

NCMW decriminalisation focus group member Datuk Seri M. Ramachelvam, who is also the Bar Council’s law reform and special areas committee co-chairman, pointed out that Section 309 is a remnant of British colonial rule.

Section 309 was enacted in 1936 and originated from the Indian Penal Code that was based on British Common Law. But many countries that have adopted the Indian Penal Code, such as Singapore and Sri Lanka, have already decriminalised suicide, he added.

Under Section 309, whoever attempts to commit suicide and does any act towards the commission of such an offence stands to be punished with imprisonment for up to a year or a fine, or both.

“According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Malaysia is one of the 25 countries that still maintains penal sanctions for attempted suicide. And in Asean, it is one of the three countries doing so besides Myanmar and Brunei.

“However, research has shown that suicide legislation has no deterrent effects. Data doesn’t show that decriminalisation increases suicide, rather, it tends to reduce suicide as people tend to avail themselves of mental and medical help,” added Ramachelvam.

The latest reported progress of the government heading towards decriminalising suicide attempts was in December 2020 when the Prime Minister’s Department reply in Parliament stated that the Attorney General’s Chambers was considering proposals from stakeholders to remove attempted suicide from the criminal justice system, said Ramachelvam.

“Therefore, we call upon the government to table the relevant legislation in Parliament to decriminalise suicide,” he said.

He also called for the withdrawal of pending charges under Section 309 and for a moratorium to not proffer any new charges under this law.

Befrienders Kuala Lumpur chairman Justin Victor echoed the urgent need for action, saying that the organisation, which offers mental health help, has been seeing an increase in the number of callers expressing suicidal views over the past few years.

“However, they are reluctant to get help because of the legal system and fear that they may be arrested, thus blocking their help-seeking behaviour,” he said.

Those suffering from problems can reach out to: Mental Health Psychosocial Support Service (03-2935 9935 or 014-322 3392); Talian Kasih (15999 or WhatsApp 019-261 5999); Jakim’s Family, Social and Community care centre (WhatsApp 0111-959 8214); and Befrienders Kuala Lumpur (03-7627 2929 or www.befrienders.org.my/centre-in-malaysia for a full list of numbers and operating hours).



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