Premarital sex and the cane

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Humiliation and pain may be frequently used teaching methodologies, but surely we can find better alternatives, says Ms Batik. The mark of a mature and compassionate society is in its treatment of its people.

At a time when the nation is lamenting the rise in unwed mothers and the dumping or abandoning of babies, one wonders at the wisdom of the recent enforcement of the penalty of imprisonment and caning under Syariah law on those who found to have engaged in premarital sex. While acknowledging societal censure (irrespective of ethnic or religious background) over premarital sex, one needs to take into consideration the lives people lead and the realities on the ground.

Various studies have already shown that sexual activity among the youth is starting at an earlier age than before. As much as people might want the youth of today to remain celibate until they get married, it is an unrealistic expectation for many. Just so people are aware, the mean age at first marriage for Malaysian men is 28.6 years and that of Malaysian women is 25.1 years. These figures are taken from the 2000 Population Census, Department of Statistics, Malaysia and depict the situation 10 years ago. What is the situation now? Can we honestly expect celibacy from young people until they get married, if at all?

It is highly doubtful that the implementation of imprisonment and caning (albeit very light caning) will deter people from engaging in premarital sex. What it might do, however, is ensure that people who are involved in such situations would no longer want to come forward or seek help through official channels for fear of punishment and humiliation.  Who knows to what lengths they may go to hide their predicament? They may seek unsafe terminations, dump or abandon their babies or make unsafe decisions over their sexual behaviour or partners.  

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Perhaps society (i.e., we) could be more pragmatic about the situation.  In addition to on-going education about abstinence (for those who still feel very strongly about this), we could help our young people better by also promoting sex education, providing young people with access to accurate information, having avenues for young people to explore options especially those who have difficult decisions to take as well as helping and supporting those in difficult situations.

Humiliation and pain may be frequently used teaching methodologies, but surely we can find better alternatives. The mark of a mature and compassionate society is in its treatment of its people.  Let’s choose to make our society such a society.

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