UN Agency: Disclose MOH Probe On Orang Asli Birth Control

UNFPA says family planning must be “rights-based at all times”.

KUALA LUMPUR, July 16 — The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) urged the Ministry of Health (MOH) to divulge the results of its investigation on allegations that MOH officials forced Orang Asli women to take birth control shots.

The UN sexual and reproductive health agency said the relevant authorities should recommend the necessary steps to guarantee each person’s right to decide freely and without coercion to plan their families, and the number and spacing of their children. 

“Given the nature of these allegations, we are confident that the Health Ministry and other appropriate authorities will take their investigation seriously,” Marcela Suazo, UNFPA Representative in Malaysia, told CodeBlue.

“It would be important for the results of the investigation to be shared openly and transparently to reassure stakeholders, including the community in question, that the matter has been dealt with thoroughly.”

MOH announced last Saturday that it has set up an internal inquiry, chaired by family health medical expert Dr Ayub Bah Los from Klinik Kesihatan Kampar, to probe allegations by Orang Asli women in Hulu Perak, Perak, that they were coerced into joining the ministry’s family planning programme.

The inquiry, whose panel only comprises MOH officials from the Perak state health department, will investigate if the Orang Asli were forced to take contraceptives, weaknesses in the ministry’s family planning services, and recommendations for improvement in the contraceptive programme.

Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad said results of the inquiry would be known by July 26, with the panel meeting tomorrow. 

MOH did not mention if the inquiry would investigate similar allegations by Temiar Orang Asli women from Gua Musang, Kelantan, besides complaints by the Temiar tribe in Perak. The ministry simply said the internal inquiry would probe complaints against the Hulu Perak district health office.

The announcement of MOH’s internal inquiry came amid pressure from doctors to investigate indigenous women’s complaints against health officials forcing birth control injections on them, from five years ago to as recent as this month.

UNFPA said no one should be “coerced or tricked” into anything that violated their rights and choices, pointing out that family planning is a human right and must be “rights-based at all times”.

“At the moment, we do not have confirmation if these allegations are indeed a case of coercion,” Suazo said. 

“Should any violations of rights and choices be found, they should be addressed in the most expeditious and appropriate way by relevant authorities.”

Marcela Suazo, UNFPA Representative in Malaysia

She noted that Indian authorities, including the Supreme Court, took action against well-documented violations in the forced sterilisation of men in India during the 1970s and “sterilisation camps” involving women from 2010.

Reuters reported that India’s top court ordered in 2016 a ban on government sterilisation camps, reportedly finding that 363 women died between 2010 and 2013 during or after operations in those camps due to mismanagement, like doctors using dirty equipment and expired drugs.  

“We are not in a position to compare these incidents,” said Suazo. 

She added that health care providers had a duty to provide women, who want to access family planning, with full information on the available selection of contraceptives to enable them to make the choices they want, so that women can plan their lives and health and understand the resulting benefits.

“Malaysia has committed to the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action in 1994 which affirms the importance of sexual and reproductive health, including rights-based family planning, as a precondition for women’s empowerment,” said Suazo.

She also called for comprehensive sex eduation at as young an age as possible in both school and outside school settings, so that young people know their rights and options when they enter a romantic relationship or plan a family.

“Information can be provided along an age-appropriate continuum, as the recently updated International Technical Guidelines on Sexuality Education, led by Unesco with support from UNFPA and other UN partners, clearly spells out.”

Suazo said it was a well-known medical fact that repeat pregnancies and childbirths contributed to anaemia in women, which should be treated with iron and folate when the blood condition occurs during pregnancy.

“It is equally, if not more important, to prevent anaemia in pregnancy, and one preventive measure is to ensure adequate child spacing and proper and adequate nutrition of the pregnant woman. 

“And once again, this goes back to the question of providing complete information at the right time, to women and their families,” she said.

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