Teenage girl in Malaysia charged with murder after stabbing her rapist's baby.
A drawbridge in the eastern Malaysian state of Terengganu, where a 15-year-old girl stabbed her newborn son to death last week. Photo: Mohd RASFAN / AFP

Teen Mother Charged With Murder for Stabbing Her Baby Born of Rape

Many are calling for her murder charge to be dropped as the case shines a light on reproductive rights and poor support for sexual assault survivors in Malaysia.

Last week, a 15-year-old girl gave birth in her home with the assistance of her friend in Terengganu, a coastal state in Peninsular Malaysia. Her friend rushed out of the house to seek help from a nearby clinic after the delivery, leaving the teen and her newborn son alone. 

When medical staff arrived at the scene, they found a bleeding baby, seemingly stabbed by his mother. The infant was pronounced dead after being rushed to the nearby clinic for emergency aid. The teen was arrested the same day on Feb. 9 and charged with murder on Tuesday. 

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The gruesome case has sent shockwaves through Malaysian society. But despite the facts surrounding the case, many are calling for her murder charge to be dropped. 

That’s because the unnamed teen says the baby was conceived after she was raped by a man last year—a fact that has turned the case on its head and sparked heated debate around the lack of reproductive rights afforded to women in the Southeast Asian country. 

“This case exhibits how all levels of society and healthcare have failed this girl child survivor of rape,” Subatra Jayaraj, president of Reproductive Rights Advocacy Alliance Malaysia, told VICE World News. “She should definitely not be charged and tried for murder.”

A statement released on Sunday by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner under Malaysia’s Human Rights Commission said that the girl’s family did not know about her pregnancy. The Children’s Commissioner Noor Aziah Mohd Awal believed the teen was “definitely suffering from a horrible mental health condition that led her to act in such a way.” 

Police are aware of the alleged rapist’s identity and are searching for him now.

As the case grabs national headlines, it has also shone a light once again on longstanding tension surrounding reproductive rights in socially conservative, Muslim-majority Malaysia, which provides few safeguards for vulnerable individuals such as sexual violence survivors and children.

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According to Malaysian law, carrying out an abortion is punishable with three years of prison and/or a fine. There are exceptions for instances where the pregnancy poses a risk to the woman’s life or threatens her “mental or physical health” more than if the pregnancy were terminated. 

Crucially, there are no exceptions for abortion purely on the grounds of rape or incest. 

“Abortion continues to be viewed as a socio-political-religious issue rather than as a gold standard healthcare option that should be available to any woman in Malaysia who has an unintended pregnancy,” said Subatra.

This politicization of the issue is putting women at risk, and things might have been very different for the teen, now in police custody, had she received better healthcare and mental health support.

“She should have been offered the option of early termination of pregnancy upon assessment of her health risk, which is allowed by Malaysian law,” said Subatra. “Sexual violence has multiple immediate and long-term consequences to a child. She should be given appropriate health support including access to counselling and postpartum health.”

“We must work towards systemic changes that will prevent another child from falling through the cracks.”

But in Malaysia, even those who receive abortions on medical grounds aren’t guaranteed immunity from prosecution. In 2014, a Nepalese migrant worker was arrested, becoming the first woman in Malaysia in over twenty years to be convicted for having an abortion. She was sentenced to one year in prison, despite a doctor deeming the procedure justified on medical grounds. She was later acquitted after proving that the pregnancy posed a health risk.

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Many women in Malaysia also struggle with access as most abortion procedures are restricted to private healthcare providers, meaning costs are too high for some to bear. The common medical abortion drug, mifepristone, which is found on the WHO’s essential medicines list, is also not available. Instead, according to Subatra, there exists a black market of abortion drugs provided by individuals who are not medically trained, with pills that are potentially unsafe.

It’s these broader issues that contributed to the tragedy that unfolded in last week’s case, with Abinaya Mohan, the head of campaigns at local NGO Women’s Aid Organisation, saying strict laws combined with societal stigma were putting the lives of girls and women in danger.

“We must work towards systemic changes that will prevent another child from falling through the cracks,” she told VICE World News. 

Many are now questioning the murder charge faced by the teen in custody, with local rights groups and politicians calling for her case to be considered infanticide rather than murder—citing the emotional distress the teen likely endured after giving birth to her rapist’s child. 

According to Malaysia’s penal code, infanticide refers to when a woman causes the death of her newborn child while not fully recovered from childbirth, taking into account the fact that they may be in a distressed mental state.

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Infanticide is punishable with up to 20 years in prison, while murder is met with a mandatory death sentence in Malaysia. However, under the Child Act 2001, the death sentence is not applicable to offenders under 18 years old.

The teen has been in remand since Feb. 9, the day the alleged murder occurred. Her lawyer told local reporters that a plea for bail was rejected despite submitting that the case was of “great public interest” and would have “set a [good] precedent” for the court.

The case has prompted reflection on how Malaysia treats its young, vulnerable offenders, with the Sarawak Women for Women Society urging better support from authorities for the “young traumatised mother” while her charges are investigated.

On Saturday, in light of the high-profile case, the Parliamentary Special Select Committee on Women, Children and Social Development expressed concern about the authorities’ decision to remand her without appropriate psychological assessment or assistance. All children in conflict with the law should be offered psychological support and free legal representation throughout the criminal justice process, said the committee chairperson Seri Azalina Othman.

The committee also recommended a more comprehensive sexual education program to teach children about statutory rape and unwanted pregnancies. A total of 41,083 teen pregnancies were reported in Malaysia between 2017 and 2022—a figure Mohan called “staggering.”

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“[This] number requires immediate attention from the authorities and a thorough evaluation of welfare structures and resources for girls who need them most,” she said. “This has severe, long-lasting consequences for girls including a perpetuated cycle of poverty, child marriage and an increased vulnerability to abuse.” 

While the fate of the teen remains uncertain for now, in the eyes of advocates like Mohan and Subatra, the case stands to serve as an urgent wake-up call around Malaysia’s approach to reproductive health and sexual assault. 

“We cannot put [the teen mother’s] mental and physical health at risk nor allow her to forego her future simply because the state failed to implement safeguards for survivors of sexual violence in the country,” said Mohan.

“There needs to be compassion, there needs to be a better understanding of the events that led to this outcome.”

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