“Punishing Them Won’t Lower Suicide Rates!”, Malaysians Call For Decriminalization of Suicide

T/W: This article discusses depression, suicide, and self-harm. Please read with caution. If you are triggered by the topics mentioned in this article, I encourage you to take a break from reading this article and reach out to someone you trust to process your feelings and thoughts.


Recently, we’re seeing a spike in suicide cases here in Malaysia. Unfortunately, the toll that COVID-19 has taken on the lives of people locally (and globally) is far more than we realise. The WHO has reported that suicide is now one of the top three leading causes of death amongst those aged 15 to 44. Not only that, in the past 45 years, but suicide attempts have also increased by up to 20 times that of complete suicides. To put that into perspective, one person dies of suicide every 40 seconds. And of that, around 20 different people are attempting suicide.


What is the Malaysian law with regards to suicide?

Just days ago, a magistrate’s court in Malaysia fined an unemployed man RM3,000 after his attempt at committing suicide failed. In June, a 42-year-old man who stabbed himself with fragments from a broken glass window was sentenced to one month in prison. The law does not discriminate as well; in 2017, an unemployed woman was fined RM2,000. There’s also the case of ex-convict Mohd Shaari Talip, who tried to commit suicide at a monorail station days after being released from prison – he was fined RM1,000.


This is because, unfortunately, Malaysia remains one of the few countries in the world that still views suicide as a criminal act. According to Section 309 of the Penal Code:


Whoever attempts to commit suicide, and does any act towards the commission of such offence, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine or with both.”


According to AskLegal, Malaysia’s Penal Code derives from the British – who in turn inherited it from the Penal Code in India – who once believed that criminalising suicide would be effective as a deterrent. Unfortunately, the law, which dates back to the 19th century, was erected back when mental health was under-researched and misunderstood. In Malaysia at this day and age, almost 2.3% of adults have depression while 7.9% of children 5 to 15 years of age have mental health problems.


As a result, former Minister for Law – Liew Vui Keong – is pushing for suicide attempts to be decriminalised, saying…


I have said this many times before, and I will say it again as long as need be: attempted suicide is a mental health condition. It must be treated medically.
Necessary mental health support must be provided to these individuals. Sending them to prison is not the solution. It never has been and never will be.”


At the same time, the Malaysian Mental Health Association is asking for a total repeal of Section 309 of the Penal code.  In a press statement issued by Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj, president of the Malaysian Mental Health Association he stated,


Malaysia needs to widen direction in mental health, beyond the scope of looking at it as a mere health issue. A multi-sectoral approach involving government agencies, the corporate sector, non-government organisations and academia need to come together to address mental health issues which are increasing becoming pertinent in the lives of all Malaysians and not just those with severe mental illness. This discussion is not just about the decriminalisation of suicide. This is also a plea for Malaysia to move more towards a compassionate society by destigmatising mental illness and safeguarding the interests of persons with mental illness and their families.” 



What is the legislation surrounding attempted suicide in other countries?

It is important to note that while Malaysia’s Penal Code is derived from the British, who got it from India, India themselves have decriminalised suicide and attempts at it. In 2016, India passed the Mental Healthcare Bill in and enacted the Mental Healthcare Act in 2017. Not only does the Act decriminalise suicide, but it also acts as a way to ensure that victims have the opportunity for rehabilitation. According to the Act…


Any person who attempts to commit suicide shall be presumed, unless proved otherwise, to have severe stress and shall not be tried and punished under the said Code. The appropriate Government shall have a duty to provide care, treatment and rehabilitation to a person, having severe stress and who attempted to commit suicide, to reduce the risk of recurrence of attempt to commit suicide.”


Not only that, up until the last year, our neighbouring country of Singapore had also criminalised suicide. However, as of the 1st of January 2020, Singapore’s Criminal Law Reform Act has decriminalised suicide.



Won’t decriminalising suicide increase suicide rates?

As local organisations call for the decriminalisation of attempted suicide in Malaysia (there’s a petition for people to sign on Change.org), the question of whether or not decriminalising it would lead to an increase in suicide rates is one that needs to be answered.


As of yet, there is no data nor is there case reports that prove that decriminalising suicide increases suicide rates. Rather, according to Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye of the Mental Health Advisory Council, countries that have decriminalised suicide have seen a decline in suicide rates. He attributes it to the fact that…


When suicide is considered a criminal act, suicide attempts are often hidden and suicide deaths are unreported, thus giving a false impression that suicidal behaviours are less prevalent.”

So, what now Malaysia?

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Signed & shared! ✍ 💌 ✅ The petition link is in our bio now. Together we can make a positive difference in this. Please sign and share the link forward. Terima kasih @mindsfirstmovement & TERIMA KASIH SEMUA! 💝 . #AWArenessonSuicideMalaysia #petitiontodecrimimalizesuicide #AWASMalaysia . . #Repost @five.nineteen_5.19 @download.ins — The fact that attempted suicide is punishable in my country is not only horrific, but completely unhelpful to the affected victims. Suicidal people need counselling and compassion, not to mention the assurance that they can overcome their struggles. This needs to change. Petition link is in my bio. Please do sign it, and share it around with as many people as you can. Thank you. #suicideprevention #suicideawareness #compassion #decriminalizesuicide #understanding

A post shared by AWA*reness on S*uicide (AWAS) (@awas.malaysia) on

Awareness. Awareness of what mental health is, how to take care of your mental health, the issues surrounding mental health, the effects of mental health and the destigmatization of mental health. It is important to learn, educate and share information and ideas of mental health in order to better empathise and emphasise the fact that mental health is just as crucial as physical health. Alongside that, there is a need for better decision-making processes concerning mental health issues. In this way, we will be able to create a more compassionate, resilient and inclusive community.




If you or someone you know is going through a tough time, reach out and talk to someone you trust. The following organisations can also be of help and are always willing to lend a listening ear:






*Cover image (background) credits: Photo by Omar Elsharawy on Unsplash