Malaysia

Kit Siang: Pandemic shows suicide a social and health problem, time to decriminalise it


DAP’s Lim Kit Siang says he noted ‘an unusual rise’ in suicides nationwide since the Covid-19 pandemic began and cited police records showing 638 suicides from January to July this year alone or averaging three suicides a day, compared to 631 in 2020 and 699 in 2019. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
DAP’s Lim Kit Siang says he noted ‘an unusual rise’ in suicides nationwide since the Covid-19 pandemic began and cited police records showing 638 suicides from January to July this year alone or averaging three suicides a day, compared to 631 in 2020 and 699 in 2019. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 11 ― DAP’s Lim Kit Siang today urged the government to strike out suicide as a crime from the country’s Penal Code in the coming Dewan Rakyat sitting, scheduled to start on Monday.

The Iskandar Puteri MP noted “an unusual rise” in suicides nationwide since the Covid-19 pandemic began and cited police records showing 638 suicides from January to July this year alone or averaging three suicides a day, compared to 631 in 2020 and 699 in 2019.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has further highlighted the fact that a suicide attempt is not an issue of crime, but a social and health problem with more people facing the symptoms of increased depression and stress, such as insomnia, anxiety, irritability and low mood, which may affect their daily functioning

“This is the time to decriminalise attempt suicide, which is a crime under the present law,” he said in a statement.

Section 309 of the Malaysian Penal Code provides for a jail sentence up to one year, or a fine, or both for those convicted of attempting suicide.

India, which shares a similar penal code to Malaysia, decriminalised suicide in 2014.

Singapore decriminalised attempted suicide in 2019 on the basis that it is a public health and social issue, not a criminal one.

Lim also urged the government to suspend prosecuting any would-be suicide in the meantime.

He said that the increase in suicides was exacerbated by the shortage of specialists who are medically trained to treat people with mental health issues as the ratio in Malaysia is only a tenth of the recommendation from the World Health Organisation for one psychiatrist to every 10,000 patients.

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“There are a total of 400 psychiatrists in Malaysia, when there should be 3,100,” he said.

“Decriminalising suicide attempts should be one of the priority agendas of the new Health Minister, Khairy Jamaluddin and I urge him, together with the new de facto Law Minister, Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaffar to play a leading role to put the decriminalisation of suicide on the statute books,” he added.

Khairy released a Tik Tok video yesterday in conjunction with World Suicide Prevention Day, urging those having problems that they are not alone and provided help hotlines for contact to those who need someone to talk to.

Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah also backed the call to decriminalise suicide as part of the government’s measures against the Covid-19 crises.

The previous Pakatan Harapan government had announced its intention to decriminalise suicide back in 2019 but was ousted in February 2020 and the plan was never tabled in Parliament.

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