Nepali woman sentenced to jail in Malaysia for abortionA Nepali migrant worker has become the first woman in Malaysia to face imprisonment for undergoing an abortion.
The Bukit Mertajam sessions court last month found Nirmala Thapa from Nepal guilty of terminating her pregnancy and sentenced her to one year in jail, said a news report published in Malaysian Chronicle on Friday.
Nirmala, 24, was six weeks pregnant when she went to a clinic in Bukit Mertajam on mainland Penang for the abortion on October 9. It is reported that she was arrested at the clinic that day when the premises was checked by officers from the Health Ministry’s Private Medical Practice Control Unit during a routine inspection.
Nirmala, who worked in a factory in Penang, was charged on October 13 under Section 315 of the Penal Code for allegedly preventing a child from being born alive. Under the section, it is an offence to prevent a child from being born alive or to cause it to die after birth. The offence is punishable by imprisonment for up to 10 years, fine or both.
Dr Choong Sim Poey of the Reproductive Rights Advocacy Alliance Malaysia said Nirmala was the first woman in Malaysia to be sent to jail for having an abortion, said the newspaper. “We have checked with our legal experts. They could not find a previous conviction of this nature,” he said.
The women’s rights and health advocacy group’s co-chair said what happened to Nirmala had raised questions about women’s rights and how Malaysia treated migrant workers.
Although induced abortion was illegal in Malaysia, the termination of pregnancy is legally allowed if done by qualified doctors, as provided under Section 312 of the Penal Code. Under this section, abortion is permitted if a registered medical practitioner is of the view that the continuance of the pregnancy will risk the woman’s life or cause injury to her mental or physical health.
Dr Choong said Nirmala’s conviction was “unusual” and regretted that she was “treated like a common criminal” for terminating her pregnancy, something many women have done. “She did what countless other women have done. Why was Nirmala targeted? She was really unlucky.”
“We learned that the girl did not even have a translator or a lawyer with her when she was taken to court,” he said, adding that Nirmala had been in distress since she was arrested and sent to the Jawi prison and then the Pokok Sena prison in Kedah.
Dr Choong said it was not uncommon for foreign women working in Malaysia to have their pregnancies terminated quickly upon discovery out of fear of risking their jobs. He said some of them might be tied to contracts with clauses stating that they were not to be pregnant while working in the country. “I am not sure what repercussions they face for violating that clause. They might lose their jobs and have to pay their agents a penalty. That is why they quickly have abortions... such a clause is unfair to the women,” he said, adding, “This also raises the question of how we treat migrant workers. They have already spent so much money to come to Malaysia to get work, and then they must save money and send home as much as they can.”