Speaking about safe abortion, barriers and law overview in ESEAO region (part 1)

By Jeross Aguilar, Rinaldi Ridwan, and Victoria Wong Li Leng

Speaking about safe abortion, it can be punished with criminal charge for some countries in East and South East Asia and Oceania region. Surprisingly, this region has a wide range of law in which the safe abortion can be performed. Safe abortion in many countries within the East, South-East Asia and Oceania region is restricted to specific conditions, mostly health related but otherwise may be considered a criminal offense.

Based on our concern, we believe that safe abortion is a part of women’s reproductive rights. Safe abortion is important to be acknowledged and legalized as this may pertain to maternal death as women who have no access to contraceptive information and services and who could no longer support their growing number of children must desperately resort to unsafe abortion procedures. Let’s see how abortion law performed in 12 countries in ESEAO region that lay down permissible conditions for safe abortion.

[1]Laws on abortion either expressly allow abortion to be performed only to save the life of a woman or are governed by general principles of criminal legislation which allow abortion to be performed for that reason on the ground of necessity. In addition, the British case of R. v. Bourne or local application of that decision applies. Under that decision, the ground of necessity was interpreted to encompass abortion performed on grounds of preserving physical and mental health.

[2]Laws on abortion do not expressly allow abortion to be performed to save the life of a woman, but general principles of criminal legislation allow abortion to be performed for that reason on the ground of necessity.

[3]Same as Fiji

Criminalisation of abortion in the Philippines

Specifically, in the Philippines safe abortion has been restrictive since 1930s and women who undergo abortion are imprisoned, as well as those who assist her to have an abortion – husband, midwife, parents, etc. The law is not also explicit in allowing abortion to save a woman’s life.

Unfortunately, proposal to liberalize the abortion law are strongly opposed by the Catholic Church. Current statistics show an increase of women having unsafe abortions which nearly half a million a year primarily for economic reasons – poor, too many children, and cannot afford health care. (Guttmacher study).

“Other attempts to reduce unsafe abortion through contraception and family planning are also blocked by the Catholic Church. It is hoped that passing the Reproductive Health Bill will significantly reduce the incidence of unsafe abortions.” – Jeross, youth representative from FPOP.


Malaysia: lack of knowledge to legal status of abortion mainly on health provider

Moving to Malaysia, it has always been a taboo to talk about having an abortion Abortion has always been a taboo in Malaysia. According to the survey results conducted with 120 doctors and nurses, there is evidence that there are judgmental and unsympathetic perception of many health care providers on abortion and unwanted pregnancies Evidence in a survey conducted among 120 doctors and nurses suggests that health care providers are judgmental and unsympathetic of abortion and unwanted pregnancies (S.P. Choong, 2008). Lack of knowledge to legal status of doctors, nurses, the media and the public that abortion is restricted in Malaysia has been a major barrier for young women to access health information and services (Kamaluddin, 2008).

However section 312 of the Penal Code of Malaysia permits abortion on these grounds:  to save the life of the woman;  to preserve her physical and or mental health. Furthermore, The Malaysian National Population and Family Development Board Survey on secondary school students in 2007 revealed that 21.2% who knew their friends have unwanted pregnancies, and 10% who has friends whom had undergone abortion (LPPKN, 2007).


Highlights of the Girls Decide Parallel Session on 6th APCRSHR, 11 October 2011

During the last 6th Asia Pacific Conference on Reproductive and Sexual Health and Rights, IPPF ESEAOR in cooperation with IPPF SARO hosted a parallel session on Girls Decide. The session was full-reserved and a lot of things occur and be discussed. What happened during this session? Just go through this page! Enjoy! 🙂

Panel Members:

  • Ms Anjali Sen, Regional Director, IPPF-South Asia Region (SA),
  • Dr. Anna Whelan, Regional Director,  IPPF-East South East Asia and Oceania Region (ESEAO),
  • Ms. Syefa Ahmed, Youth Representative, IPPF South Asia
  • Ms. Denty Nastitie, Youth Volunteer, Indonesian Planned Parenthood Association (IPPA)


Mr. Milinda Rajapaksa, IPPF-SARYN Coordinator

Dr. Anna Whelan, Regional Director, IPPF-ESEAO delivered her opening remarks and said that as IPPF will celebrate its sixtieth (60th) year anniversary on 2012, and as opposed to its age, IPPF becomes invigorated. IPPF is guided by its strategic framework for adolescent. IPPF is on the advantage as it works with the established young people and at the same time provide SRH services to them. In 2010, IPPF provided 4 million services to young people and a considerable amount of which are in the South Asia Region.

The IPPF Girls Decide videos Young Motherhood: Halima’s Journey and Child Marriage: Hosna’s journey were shown and followed by two short presentations by Denty and Syefa, youth volunteers from Indonesia and Bangladesh IPPF Member Associations respectively. Presentation entitled “Young Women and Girls in Indonesia,Can We Decide?” showed that  Indonesia is a multicultural country Due to patriarchy and unsafe practices, young girls are at risk of sexual violence and other types of violence (child marriage for example is still practiced in the country). Denty also encouraged other young people to take an active role in youth initiatives that promote youth friendly services and comprehensive sexuality education.

On the second presentation entitled “Girls Decide: experiences from South Asia”, Syefa highlighted the marked differences between rural and urban situation of young people and presented staggering figures where more than two-thirds (2/3) of women in Bangladesh are married by age 18. She also shared that many young married girls face lots of pressure from their parents in law to have babies early in marriage as they consider reproduction as a standard for a successful relationship.

Following the two presentations the discussion was opened to the floor. The session organisers opted for an open forum – rather than Q&A, pieces of paper were distributed for each participant to write his/her own challenges faced with regard to their sexual and reproductive health and rights as young people. Everyone was then invited to throw their paper to other participants in the room. The person who caught the ‘snow ball’ would then read out the challenges and would try to address it. The moderator of the session, Milinda Rajapaksha, SARYN coordinator, further elaborated and encouraged discussions at every challenge presented. Below are the highlights of the discussions in the open forum:

  • The high cost of contraceptives is a hindering factor for young people accessing to contraception.
  • A young parliamentarian from Pakistan cited several efforts were made to address youth policies by means of approaching constitutional reforms and integrating youth policy into it.
  • An adult participant from the Netherlands shared about the kind of sex education they get in schools curricula in their country. She further elaborated  that a young girl who has a good understanding of her physical body, accessibility to information and SRH services, has the advantage to be well equipped to make better choices with her body.  This has resulted in contributing being the country having the lowest rate of teenage pregnancies.
  • A young person from Bangladesh also shared also that at policy level t young people has access to different family planning methods. There is also a need to advocate to the government and at the same time with the community on providing family planning access to young people. . Stigma should be addressed and need to ensure friendliness of the health service providers.
  • On the issue of advocating with the religious leaders, a young person from Bangladesh shared the works of the madrassah. This work involves training of young people in advocating to the religious leaders, to the local governments and convincing parents to let the girl child decide for herself. The topics in the training are about their physical bodies, sexual pleasure, sexuality, HIV and AIDS, sexual diversity include LGBTQI and prioritizing the needs of young people on youth friendly services.
  • Creating safer spaces for young people for SRH services is important
  • Approaching sexuality positively
  • Issues of transgender are always being left behind
  • A young person from Sri Lanka shared on the SPEAK OUT campaign against sexual harassment faced by young women especially those which happened in public transportation and to make a report to a hotline.
  • A journalist asked whether teaching sexuality education would push young people to become promiscuous. The respond was that there are many studies which showed evidence that young people will not become promiscuous as they were being taught on sexuality education.
  • The common theme that emerged from the session was the need for young people to support and push for youth-lead initiatives on SRHR ———————–.

IPPF – South Asia Regional Director, Ms. Anjali Sen closed the session. Ms Anjali stressed that there is growing global consensus that girls are central to be key player in development. IPPF’s unique contribution in this groundswell of support is to highlight the importance of girls’ and young women’s sexual and reproductive lives. These efforts will not only make a big difference in the lives of girls and young women, but also will feed into the global processes, including the MDGs and the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health.

This one and half hour satellite session was a joint event organized by IPPF ESEAOR and IPPF SAR which was coordinated by Ms Jayamalar Samuel and Ms Francesca Barolo.

Documented by

Mr. Brayant Gonzales, Family Planning Organization of the Philippines (FPOP) , Youth focal point

ACSC / APF: challenge to ensure young people’s SRHR are really heard and followed up by the ASEAN government. (part three)

By Yann Aoudourm, youth representative from Reproductive Health Association Cambodia (RHAC)

ACSC/APF is an important forum that helped to consolidate civil society organization’s positions and grassroots on major regional issues and agenda. Aside from that, ACSC/APF also facilitated civil society to be able to provide a joint statement to ASEAN leaders through direct interface meeting during the ASEAN Summit.

From 29th-31st of March 2012, there were more than 1,200 delegates from all ten ASEAN countries plus China representing various civil society organizations and movements. The delegate ranging from workers from rural and urban sectors as well as the migrant sector, peasants and farmers, women, children, youth, the elderly, persons with disabilities, urban poor, indigenous peoples, victims of human rights violations, domestic workers, lesbian gay bisexual transgender/transsexual intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) people, human rights defenders and other groups, gathered together have joint in APF discussing under the theme “Transforming ASEAN into a People Centered Community”.

Unfortunately, during the APF, there were an unacceptable restrictions imposed on participants human right, specifically freedom of expression and assembly. Some participants from Burma were discouraged to participate and thematic workshop on land rights on Burma was not allowed to be conducted.

However, other issues such as the plight of migrant workers, the rights of migrant workers, exploitation, ASEAN Human Right Declaration, human rights violation, SRHR, education, job opportunities, policies implementations, peach and security and others have been discussed. Finally, a joint statement has been achieved and will be handed to ASEAN leaders during ASEAN Summit.

Even though both AYF and APF/ACSC have completed and achieved joint statements to be handed to ASEAN leaders during ASEAN Summit; Youth are very disappointed because the lack of monitoring mechanism to ensure statements will be followed up by the ASEAN governments.

The criticism toward this process is we were sad after hearing that nothing is done about the questions: what have been implemented so far since AYF and APY/ACSC’s statement had been handed to ASEAN leaders? What are the evidences showing that ASEAN leaders responded the statements? It seems that our effort for producing statements is useless and our voices for our human rights, sexual reproductive health and rights, environment, education, land violation and others issues have been ignored or less attention.

This year, there will be two AYF and APY/ACSC. Once has done by NGOs and another one has done by Government-Organized Non Governmental Organisations (GoNGOs). It is a fact that we are facing common issues in the region yet our spirit of cooperation, solving regional issues and realizing our needs should be done maintained well. The tendency is the ASEAN leaders will support GoNGOs rather than NGOs and put our statements out of the room. This can be seen that on this year, ASEAN secretary general and government representatives did not join APF/ACSC which was really different from others years.

To move forward on the next AYF and APY/ACSC, we should really rethink over creation of monitoring team to follow up statements, how can we approach ASEAN leaders and get them responding our statements and also to ensure young people’s voices and needs have been heard and followed up. As we are human being, we have rights to demand our needs, express our concerns; there should be no a single reason that ASEAN leaders ignore our statements.

Specifically, during the APF, civil society in SRHR movement made a workshop: “NGO strategizing for post MDG and ICPD-SRHR of young people and women”. I was presenting Politicizing Women’s Rights as part of universality of SRHR ( in Cambodia context). The recommendation of this workshop is to reaffirm the ASEAN Youth Forum process in creating joint youth statement, and adapting the result of Asia Pacific Youth Partners Advocacy Training and Strategy Meeting: In preparation for Commission on Population & Development 2012 which further in advancing the Better Protection and Promotion of Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights, Policies and Services.

Finally, despite all the challenges that we have faced, we are really happy that young people’s SRHR has been put into recommendation, including hot button issues such as safe abortion and sexual diversity. Our works toward fulfillment of young people’s SRHR is still long, do you want to be a part of these changes?

ASEAN Youth Forum: consolidating young people’s voice prior to the ACSC/APF (part two)

By Yann Aoudourm, youth representative from Reproductive Health Association Cambodia (RHAC)


ASEAN Youth Forum can be considered as a safe platform for young people to share their concern and voices within the region. AYF was to build up a platform for young people from diverse groups to voice out their issues, advocate for their needs and rights, influence policy makers, build up network, strategize mechanisms, demand and suggest to ASEAN government to realize its promise and to fulfill youth’s needs and rights.

This year, AYF was held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia from 26th-28th March 2012 with more than 100 participants of youth from ASEAN countries plus China. During AYF, a lot of things discussed and young people have found out the four common challenges in the region such as education and meaningful participation of young people, sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), peace, and environment. At the end of this forum, young people created a joint statement which urgently demands for immediate action from ASEAN government in facilitating the full actualization of our humanity: OUR MIND, OUR BODY and OUR HEART.

Regarding to common issues, firstly, it is related to our educational system: youth have raised issue by using evidence-base and youth have come to an agreement that ASEAN education is currently facing: (1) insufficient qualified teaching staffs, (2) poor educational facilities, (3) unequal education opportunities for key populations, vulnerable and marginalized groups, and (4) lack of programs that cater to the career wants of the youth. Youth have been demanding that young people in ASEAN must be empowered to access free and qualified basic education so that they can address their needs in order to find their own solutions, make their own decisions, and realize their own choices. And we are concerned about the limitation and restriction on space for freedom of expression and meaningful participation among youth from diverse groups.

Secondly, we have discussed about conflict and violence which still exist in many ASEAN countries. These are brought about by political unrest, national interest, social benefits, and faulty historical teaching. Examples of conflict issues are: border conflict, labor rights violation, discrimination of migration workers by State authorities and companies and natural resource exploitation such as land concession, dams, deforestation, etc. Conflicts among government and civil society have been on-going in many ASEAN countries. The youth still face political fear and are unaware of many political issues. Moreover, they fall as victims to state, community and domestic violence.

Thirdly, youth have recognized that they are currently living in a context which threatens our health and the environment around us. More and more of our ASEAN youths perish because of ineffective, lack of policies and promotion of these policies as well as gaps of implementation which greatly affect our bodies and the ecosystem we co-exist with in achieving sustainable development.

Fourthly, we have discussed about a better protection and promotion of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, policies and services. We acknowledged that there is indeed an immense gap on the comprehensive information of young people’s sexuality, which is a key factor in enabling young people to make informed choices to enjoying the highest attainable quality of life. For the details of the youth statement, you can find it in our previous post.

Sexual rights from concept into practice, how do you make it? (part two)

Continuing our previous post on sexual rights part one, there are some other areas that is included within this rights, they are:

3. Sexual rights of young people to get education and information

Comprehensive Sexuality Education is a part of sexual rights. In ESEAO region, Thailand is one of the most progressive country to put Sexuality Education since 1978 within school curricula under the term of life and family studies. To link with CSE, access toward youth friendly services should be available. Since education is a part of this rights, any efforts to denied access to Comprehensive Sexuality Education can be considered as violation to sexual rights.

4. Sexual rights of sex worker

Sex worker and prostitution industry will always be existed wherever human being exist. There are at least four approach taken by policy making on sex works. 1) Abolitionist, who consider sex worker is a victim of human trafficking and also violence against women. 2) Criminalization, who criminalize sex works. 3) Decriminalization, who support sex workers to choose their job 4) Legalization, which respect sex works as a profession that needs to be regulated by the government. Any choice made by sex workers should be respected as it is their rights to decide on their own.

5. Sexual rights of LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersexual)

Some countries in Asia have a strict regulation in which punish people who commit homosexuality act. Malaysia has a law stating that homosexuality is illegal and can be charged to criminal law. On the contrary, in Thailand transgender is respected and they have access to change their sex. Sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) is a diversity within human beings. We must respect people no matter their background is and help to advocate LGBTI rights to be free from discrimination.

Looking at the implementation of this rights in particular, have you got the big picture of sexual rights? How do you compare it with the comment mentioning that sexual rights is a “manufactured” rights? Your comment are most welcome 😀



Exclaim! Young people’s guide to “Sexual rights: an IPPF declaration”, IPPF: London, 2011.

Reclaiming & Redefining Rights: Thematic Studies Series 1, Sexuality & Rights in Asia, ARROW: Kuala Lumpur.

Sexual rights: an IPPF declaration, IPPF: London, 2008

Sexual rights from concept into practice, how do you make it? (part one)

Speaking about sexual rights, what do you have in your mind the first time you hear it?

Based on the comments that we received on our blog posting, this concept faces a lot of resistance.  Some people would simplify this into the rights to have sex and considered that this rights is a “manufactured” human rights.

To have a better understanding on Sexual Rights, let’s look at the IPPF Sexual Right declaration (published in year?) To start discussion, IPPF has already made a declaration on sexual rights, they are:

  1. The right to equality
  2. The right to participation
  3. The right to life and to be free from harm, security, and bodily integrity
  4. The right to privacy
  5. The right to personal autonomy and to be recognized as an individual before the law
  6. The right to think, freedom of thought, and express oneself freely
  7. The right to health
  8. The right to education and information
  9. The right to choose whether or not to marry or have children
  10. The right to accountability and redress

A thematic study, conducted by ARROW on demystifying sexual rights ( year) reveals on how we can talk about Sexual  Right in a specific case. First of all, we should make it clear on what is the indicator of this right? We have listed five indicators that can be used to make these rights into a practical issue.

  1. Sexual rights around choice of partner, consensual sexual relation, and consensual marriage.

Forced marriage is common in Indonesia and Cambodia. 18% of women in Cambodia met their husbands for the first time in the wedding day. Meanwhile in Indonesia, forced marriages are still performed in rural area. Moreover, based on the census at 1998, in one province in Indonesia, West Java, child marriage rate is approximately 16%. This is clearly a violation of sexual rights. Therefore it is important to limit the age of marriage as a part to prevent forced marriage and child marriage. In a larger scope, it is important to ensure young women have access to their education and employment which in turn empower their life.

  1. Sexual rights on bodily integrity

A lot of traditional practices have harmful effect on women. Female genital mutilation is part of traditional practice that is a violation toward sexual rights. Female genital mutilations still exist in Indonesia and Malaysia. This is undoubtedly harmful to women and has a potentiality to reduce or even make it impossible for women to have sexual satisfaction and orgasm.

Sexual violence is also a part of violation toward sexual rights. The most common form is rape and sexual harassment. Some countries in East and South East Asia such as China, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Lao PDR, Indonesia, and Cambodia have already have anti rape law. Aside from that, a new form of violence has occurred through technology. It can be a harassment through e-mail, facebook, and twitter.

Trafficking is also a form of violation toward sexual rights Counties such as  such as Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam had implemented anti-trafficking laws to combat human trafficking.

Sexual rights have various components beside the above mentioned and , we will continue to share the information in a separate blog post 😀


Exclaim! Young people’s guide to “Sexual rights: an IPPF declaration”, IPPF: London, 2011.

Reclaiming & Redefining Rights: Thematic Studies Series 1, Sexuality & Rights in Asia, ARROW: Kuala Lumpur.

Sexual rights: an IPPF declaration, IPPF: London, 2008