LETTER | I learned more about sex and mutual consent from Youtube videos such as Thomas (Tomska) Ridgewell’s educational 6-minute “Sex Talk” than I did in the 11 years of learning science in school, which, ideally, is not something you want to hear about the state of education in a fast-developing country.
With victim-shaming textbooks and judgemental baby-dumping posters making headlines just in the infancy of 2019, talk of a brand-new sex education syllabus has been in the zeitgeist for quite a while with Deputy Women, Family, and Community Development Minister Hannah Yeoh recently mentioning earlier this month that the syllabus is already in the works with the collaboration of the Education Ministry, but did not reveal any details.
However, even if the ministries should live up to their promise and actually create a proper sex education syllabus, it will be all for nought if the target demographic can’t gain access to the very methods they’re taught. Teaching teenagers about safe sex but not allowing them access to contraception is equivalent to teaching someone how to cook without allowing them access to a kitchen; what they learn becomes useless.
Private clinics and hospitals are generally quite lax with giving contraceptives to those of legal age but not everybody can afford to go private, especially not teenagers.
Those that can’t afford private care and are looking for long-term contraception treatments are then forced to go to the only affordable avenue, Klinik Nur Sejahtera; our very own version of planned parenthood (minus the abortions) that is operated under the Lembaga Penduduk dan Pembangunan Keluarga Negara (LPPKN).
At first, this might sound like serendipity as not many people are even aware of Klinik Nur Sejahtera’s existence and its insanely cheap prices, but it comes with a caveat; only married women are allowed to receive treatment, or at least, that is what the staff of LPPKN will tell you.
When I learned about this policy, I became quite suspicious as a quick Google search (and a call to a lawyer) led me to learn that there is no law stipulating that only married women are allowed to receive birth control treatments. A quick perusal also revealed that no such policy can be found anywhere on LPPKN’s website; several doctors asked about this policy say that as far as they know, no such policy exists, at least not on an official level.
According to Dr Subatra Jayaraj, honorary secretary of Reproductive Rights Advocacy Alliance Malaysia (RRAAM), “The official policy from the Ministry of Health (MOH) is that marital status should not be an issue according to the National Adolescent Health Policy, but clinics are implementing their own interpretation”.
When asked if there is any conduit to reporting clinics that are implementing non-existent policies, she said it would be best to simultaneously report to the director of the institution, the director-general of health, and the Public Complaints Bureau.
To be absolutely sure, I called up the Selangor LPPKN and they confirmed that Klinik Nur practises this policy but when asked where one can find this policy written down they became quite evasive and instead directed me to their headquarters.
I then managed to get in touch with Rosmonaliza binti Abdul Ghani, the chief of corporate communications, who affirmed the policy and explained that if an unmarried person were to walk in and request for birth control treatments such as IUDs or implants, they would first need to go through counselling. When I asked if they would then be allowed to go through with the treatment after counselling, she refused to answer the question.
Obviously, I then followed up with the burning question of whether or not this policy was actually “official” as it is nowhere to be found. As predicted, I received another evasive response and was once again told to ask someone higher up as she had no authority to answer the question.
I then enquired for official proof of the existence of this policy from Abdul Shukur bin Abdullah, the director-general of LPPKN. After some back and forth between the higher-ups, I finally received a definitive answer from Dr Wan Hilya Munira, a medical officer from the Human Reproduction Unit of LPPKN:
“Mengikut Akta Penduduk dan Keluarga yang dipraktikkan oleh LPPKN dan pernyataan yang terdapat di dalam Polisi Perancang Keluarga di LPPKN, tiada disebut berkaitan pemberian kaedah perancang keluarga tidak boleh diberikan kepada yang belum berkahwin atau kenyataan bahawa pemberian hanya meliputi wanita yang berkahwin sahaja.
Walaubagaimana pun, sebagai organisasi yang bertanggungjawab terhadap kesejahteraan penduduk daripada aspek sosial, kesihatan dan kerohanian, pemberian kontraseptif kepada wanita yang belum berkahwin dibolehkan selepas melalui sesi kaunseling terlebih dahulu oleh doktor yang bertugas di Klinik Nur Sejahtera LPPKN.”
According to Wan Hilya, the policy of providing contraceptives to only married women does not exist. She then followed up with, “As an organisation responsible for the well-being of the people from a social, spiritual, and health aspect, contraceptives are afforded to unmarried women after they have gone through counselling with the doctor on duty”.
While this ostensibly makes it look as if there should be no problem for single women going to Klinik Nur, this information is not made public anywhere on their website or their clinics. It took me four days of being bounced around through bureaucracy just to uncover this clandestine procedure. Just imagine how many young women have had to give up on getting the affordable contraception they needed just because they were deliberately not informed of this seemingly standard operating procedure.
Proper healthcare is a universal right that should be afforded to all and these institutions are no place for moral judgement and forced piety. The only factors that medical practitioners should take into consideration when treating patients are medical ones; how they live their private lives should not affect what treatments are made available to them.
Teaching the youth about safe sex and giving them access is not the same thing as encouraging them. With baby-dumping on the rise, the government cannot deny that teenagers are having sex and will continue to do so regardless of whether or not they receive proper sex education as this is an intrinsic human nature.
Preaching abstinence will only fall on deaf ears. We can’t stop the majority of teenagers from giving in to their urges, but we can teach them to make informed choices and lower the risks of ruining their health and their future.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.