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Suicide: If It's An Offense, Who Is It Offending?

Is criminalising suicide progressive to a country?

Recently, we have seen news of a 28-year-old, Shahfirul Hakim Shahidan, being fined RM3,000 for attempting suicide. To add salt to the wound, Shahfirul risks the threat of being jailed for 3 months if he fails to pay the fine.

The unemployed man pleaded guilty to the suicide attempt by trying to jump from the building through the balcony fence of his unit at a flat block in Jalan Cheras, at 4.45AM on 1 August.

Shahfirul was sentenced under Section 309 of the Penal Code which provides for a maximum jail term of one year or a fine or both.

Criminalising suicide: Is it progressive?

The criminalisation of suicide or attempted suicide is, not justified, but understandable when read through the rationale. But is it really helping Malaysians, especially those suffering from burdens they fear are too much to carry? And is criminalising suicide in par with stripping people from their personal rights as a human?

Image via Forbes India

Instead of criminalising suicide, what the government can implement to progress as a country in an era where young people are starting to educate themselves on social injustice issues, is by firstly understanding that the times have changed and cultural beliefs are starting to evolve for the better too. 

According to Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye, a member of the Mental Health Promotion Advisory Council, the move should be supported by all as suicidal people are not problems, they are victims who are suffering. Tan Sri Lee believes that those who attempted suicide must be given psychiatric help and rehabilitation.

Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye. Image via New Straits Times

Amendments to suicide criminalising law

At the end of 2019, Datuk Liew Vui Keong, a Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department said that Malaysia could see amendments to the Penal Code to decriminalise attempted suicide as early as the middle of next year.

Datuk Liew said that a policy paper was being drawn up by the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC), mulling over the perspectives of stakeholders and approaches of different jurisdictions inside the Commonwealth.

Meanwhile, the Malaysian Bar president, Datuk Abdul Fareed Abdul Gafoor said, “The decriminalisation of suicide attempts is an appropriate move. Those attempting suicide as a way to end their emotional suffering might well be in need of medical assistance and counselling, more than penal punishments.”

Datuk Abdul Fareed Abdul Gafoor. Image via The Star

The Health Ministry also agrees on the decriminalising of attempted suicide in order to remove the stigma on mental issues while Anita Abu Bakar, President of Mental Illness Awarenss and Support Association claimed they had been advocating the cause since its inception.

Anita also believes, “If we decriminalise suicide attempts, it will encourage them to reach out for help.”

When talking about 2020, although we still don’t have flying cars but in one way or another, with the higher-ups in agreement to the initiation of decriminalising suicide, Malaysia is starting to see progress, albeit slowly. With this little step to a more progressive Malaysia, maybe we will achieve a bit of Wawasan 2020 before we know it; to have a scientific and progressive society and to have an empathetic society. 

What is the rationale in criminalising suicide?

Imagine staying at home during the pandemic and living in a city where property values are high and your rent skyrockets annually. Imagine receiving a call from your office’s Human Resources Department only to hear “Your employment has been terminated.” from the other end. And your landlord will not compromise—either you pay the rent when it’s due or you sleep on the streets. Of course, you could find another job but is it that easy when companies are laying off employees?

You have seeked out every solution possible, but none seems possible at the moment of anxiety and overloaded stress. Hence, you then only see one solution... But, if you fail… you will be penalised by the law. Now, how is that fair?

“No matter how much pressure you are facing, suicide is not a solution. Now that you’re out of the hospital, you must be charged in court. You must know that attempting suicide is a crime.”

These were the words 24-year-old victim, Yew Kah Sin, had heard amid the burden of her mother’s lung cancer treatment riding on her back. Out of the frying pan into the fire, Kah Sin was sentenced to a fine of RM2,000 or three months’ imprisonment for attempting suicide in early 2017.

Although we try to wrap our heads around it, it still does not make sense to penalise an individual who is so pressured, they see no other way out but to take their own life. 

We’ve discussed the progressiveness of this law, but let’s take a look now at how we can help these individuals and make a real difference!

Why’s and How’s

It is never not unsettling to receive news of suicide. Our minds would then start racing with questions of why they chose to do it; was it that bad for them? Were they in so much pain that suicide was the only way out? Did we check up often on them before? What drove them to do it? Of course, the possibilities are an endless list.

1. Mental illness

Image via One Future Collective

Oftentimes, people struggling with mental illnesses in Asian countries tend to not speak of their calamities as Asian culture is typically very reserved especially in Malaysia where the stigma revolving mental health is still at its peak. Ironically enough, we want people to speak up about their mental health but are criminalising suicide. Of course, mental health victims will tend to hide out in the dark rather than express themselves for fear of judgement and crucifixion from the public.

As a society who preaches prosperity, we should help victims of mental disorders by being there for them. Primarily, we have to understand that victims would not open up easily thus it is up to us to have the patience to let them express themselves within their own time and comfort. Most importantly, we should encourage them to seek professional help as Malaysia’s healthcare system is progressive in handling cases of mental health.

(Author’s note: I can testify as I am speaking from experience. A mental health check-up in Malaysia will not cause a dent in your pocket, and will make you feel like you are in a safe space. Would highly recommend getting one from the nearest health clinic if you are concerned about your mental well-being!)

2. Relationships

Image via Freepik

Asian culture has always romanticised toxic positivity, especially when it comes to close relationships whether it be with family, friends or even romantic. We have been taught to just swallow the toxic environment within the relationship. Whenever a person comes out to speak of their struggles with close or romantic relations, society is quick to dismiss it; “Just be patient”  is definitely the last thing anyone would want or need to hear.

However, what we can do to actually help, especially people close to us is by understanding where they are coming from when they express themselves to us. Instead of thinking of a response while trying to process their words of expressions, practice active listening. It is okay to take time to think of a response, which means you pay attention to what the speaker is talking about hence, being able to provide a better than good response. Truth be told, deep comprehension is better than an insightful response.

For those struggling in a romantic relationship that may feel toxic, reading up to broaden your views on how to detox a relationship may be a good move. In 1992, a self-help book titled Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus written by John Gray would be a good reading choice as the book speaks of common relationship problems between men and women which stems from fundamental psychological differences.

3. Financial problems

Image via mindful

In a world filled with capitalism, the expression “Money makes the world go round” has never been so true.  But, what happens when you have no means of a stable income, as prices of things; property, groceries, your car loan’s interest keep rising by the year? The thought of money and bills to pay would stress anyone out without a doubt. 


Financial problems are not something to be taken lightly, especially when one is with a family. Add financial problems to a family, and you would have a family dispute in no time, which can take its toll on one’s mental health. Thus, how can this be fixed?

  • Organising a financial plan

Not being able to see how much we spend would always lead to impulsive buying choices. By the end of the month, it’s instant noodles and anxiety until payday. Having a clear plan of how much you spend, how much you are willing to spend and how much you receive monthly is a great way to control your spendings. However, if you fear of crunching the numbers wrong, installing a financial planning app or referring to a relations manager will massively help!

  • Saving up

This goes without saying. Many sources recommend saving 20 percent of your income every month. Of course, the percentage can go higher the more you receive monthly. But for those receiving a lower income, saving a little out of your salary is okay if 20 percent may leave you penniless by the end of every month. However, if financial security during old age is what you are aiming at, 20 percent is the optimal value.

4. Social media

Image via Mahevash Muses

Social media can be a means of escape or a means to further stress yourself. In 2017, Molly Russell had taken her own life and her parents believed it was exposure to graphic images of self-harm on social media that was partly to blame for her death. While in 2019, a 16-year-old teenager in Malaysia had committed suicide after asking her Instagram followers on a poll if she should kill herself, to which the majority of the answer (69%) voted she should.

When things feel too much for you and social media seems overwhelming, consider doing a social media detox. Although it is quite impossible to refrain ourselves from using digital devices such as smartphones, tablets or our computers as these items are considered necessities nowadays, you can refrain yourself from using your social media.

However, it is really hard to tell yourself ‘no’ to check the timeline when the app is just sitting there on your phone. Thus, you can start small. Refrain yourselves from checking your phone first thing in the morning, and set it to airplane mood for the hours you spend in bed. During these periods, you can practice meditation or spend more time for yourselves.

But, if you still find it hard to look away from your phone: uninstall your social media apps. Don’t worry though, as the plan is to experiment with not having social media apps in your phone for only 12 hours. Truthfully, you’ll realise how much lighter you’ll feel without the pressure of the social media community on your shoulders. This will give you more time and space to be in touch with the real world and socialise face-to-face with family and friends.

Help is always available

To those facing personal problems or contemplating suicide, Befrienders is a 24-hour hotline that can help very well and are contactable at 05 - 547 7933 (Ipoh), 04 - 281 5161 (Penang) or 03 - 7956 8144 (Klang Valley).

Other alternatives:

Mental Illness Awareness and Support Association

HATI (Malaysian Mental Health Association)

SOLS Health

Cover image via Eva Blue/Unsplash

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