When a person is charged of a crime and brought before the court, the charge must be read and explained to the accused in a language that he understands.

A 24-YEAR-OLD Nepali migrant worker was arrested on Oct 9 after having undergone a termination of her six-week pregnancy. She was charged on Oct 13 without legal representation and access to an interpreter for preventing a child being born alive. No plea was recorded as she did not understand Bahasa Malaysia.

She was detained for a month before being sentenced to a year’s imprisonment on Nov 12, again, without legal representation.

The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) raises several concerns:

The Malaysian government supports sexual and reproductive health of women through its international commitments, that is, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, and the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development, as well as through domestic policies on reproductive health.

Section 312 of the Penal Code introduced an exception clause in 1989, which allows termination of pregnancy to be legally provided for by a registered doctor who considers that the continuance of the pregnancy would pose “a risk to the life of the pregnant woman or injury to her mental or physical health”.

The Health Ministry has reaffirmed this and provides guidelines for termination of pregnancy up to 22 weeks in its Current Practice Guidelines on Termination of Pregnancy.

The woman has been imprisoned for accessing legally-available reproductive health services. Health practitioners are aware of the importance of women to have access to such services.

Otherwise, they will be forced to seek clandestine and unsafe services for their reproductive health needs, which may result in dire consequences.

Of equal concern is that the Nepali woman was not represented when charged and convicted. She also did not have an interpreter when she was charged, and the interpreter during her trial did not speak Nepali.

The Criminal Procedure Code (Section 173) states that when a person is charged of a crime and brought before the court, the charge  must be read and explained  to the person in a language that he understands.

The court must ensure that the accused understands the nature and consequences of his plea before passing the sentence. 

What JAG sees are several violations of the Nepali woman’s rights. She was made vulnerable due to her being a migrant worker, not having access to legal representation and experiencing a language barrier.

JAG calls on the ministry and the Attorney-General’s Chambers to investigate what happened and ensure that such travesty of justice does not happen again.

JAG calls on the courts to release this woman and ensure the reinstatement of her job, her work permit and compensation for wages lost as well as trauma incurred.

Joint Action Group for Gender Equality, Petaling Jaya, Selangor

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