Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including marital rape, is a criminal offense, as are most forms of domestic violence. Rape is punishable by a maximum 20 years’ imprisonment and caning. Marital rape does not have a minimum penalty, but the maximum penalty is five years’ imprisonment. According to women’s groups, on average 10 women in the country were raped each day; more than half of these women were younger than 16 years. According to the latest statistics from the Ministry of Home Affairs, 28,741 rape cases were reported from 2005 to 2014 with 16 percent (4,514 cases) taken to court and 2.7 percent (765 cases) with guilty verdicts. According to police statistics, in 2014 there were 4,807 reported cases of domestic violence, 2,045 cases of rape, and 1,590 cases of sexual harassment.
Cultural attitudes and a reported lack of sympathy from the largely male police force resulted in many victims not reporting rapes. Many government hospitals had crisis centers where victims of rape and domestic abuse could make reports without going to a police station. NGOs and political parties also cooperated to provide counseling for rape victims. Women’s groups asserted the courts were inconsistent in punishing rapists.
Although the government, NGOs, and political parties maintained shelters and offered other assistance to battered spouses, activists asserted that support mechanisms for victims of domestic violence remained inadequate. There is a sexual investigations unit at each police headquarters to help victims of sexual crimes and abuse. Moreover police sometimes assign psychologists or counselors to provide emotional support. Women’s rights activists reported that police needed additional training in handling domestic abuse and rape cases. Reports of rape and spousal abuse drew considerable government, NGO, and press attention.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): Ministry of Health guidelines allow the common practice but only at government health-care facilities. A 2012 university study on FGM/C–the latest information available–reported more than 90 percent of the Muslim women respondents had undergone FGM/C. The most common reasons cited for its practice were religious obligation, hygienic purposes, and cultural tradition. In 2009 the Fatwa Committee of the National Council of Islamic Religious Affairs ruled “female circumcision” obligatory for Muslims but “if found to be harmful to health must be avoided.”
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits a person in authority from using his position to intimidate a subordinate to have sexual relations. The law classifies some types of workplace sexual harassment as criminal offenses (see section 7.d.). A government voluntary code of conduct provides a detailed definition of sexual harassment intended to raise public awareness of the problem. Observers noted that authorities took claims seriously, but victims were often reluctant to report sexual harassment because of embarrassment, the difficulty of proving the offense, and a lengthy trial process.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Authorities permitted access to contraceptives, and they were locally available. The UN Population Fund estimated use of modern contraceptives by women of reproductive age was 42 percent and the unmet demand for family planning was 15 percent. Skilled medical personnel attended 99 percent of births, and women generally had access to postpartum care. Local and international NGOs confirmed that hospitals prevented refugee mothers from removing their newborn children from the hospital until they paid the hospital bill.
Discrimination: The constitution prohibits discrimination against citizens based on gender. The law allows polygyny for Muslims, which a small minority of men practiced. Islamic inheritance law generally favors male offspring and male relatives. While sharia generally requires a husband’s consent for divorce, a small but steadily increasing number of women were able to obtain divorces under sharia without their husband’s consent. Non-Muslim women are subject to civil and criminal law but not sharia. The constitution gives men and women equal rights to inherit, acquire, own, manage, or dispose of any property, including land. Civil law gives non-Muslim mothers and fathers equal parental rights, while sharia favors fathers. Four states–Johor, Selangor, Negri Sembilan, and Pahang–extend equal parental rights to Muslim mothers, and women’s groups continued to urge the other states to do the same.
The law requires equal pay for male and female workers for work of equal value. Nonetheless, NGOs reported continued discrimination against women in the workplace in terms of promotion and salary (see section 7.d.).
Birth Registration: The constitution stipulates that a child born in the country can be granted nationality only if one parent is a citizen or permanent resident at the time of birth. The law does not grant citizenship automatically, and parents must register a child within 14 days of birth. Authorities require citizens to provide their marriage certificate and both parents’ government identity cards. Noncitizens must provide a passport. Parents applying for late registration must provide proof the child was born in the country. Authorities do not enter the father’s information for a child born out of wedlock unless there is a joint application by both parents. Authorities do not register children born to illegal immigrants or asylum seekers. UNHCR registered children born to refugees.
Education: Education is free, compulsory, and universal through primary school (six years). Although primary education is compulsory, there was no enforcement mechanism governing school attendance.
The UN Children’s Fund’s State of the World’s Children 2014 report highlighted secondary school enrollment as a cause for concern. Secondary school enrollment comprised 71 percent of girls and 66 percent of boys, compared with 96 percent overall enrollment in primary school.
Child Abuse: Child abuse took the form of neglect (failure to provide basic needs), physical abuse, sexual abuse, and infant abandonment. Punishment for child abuse includes fines, imprisonment, caning, or a combination of these measures. According to SUHAKAM the government filed 2,189 charges of child sexual abuse with only 140 successful convictions from January 2012 to July.
The government focused on preventing sexual exploitation of children, including commercial sexual exploitation. Incest also was a problem. The law provides for six to 20 years’ imprisonment and caning for individuals convicted of incest. A child’s testimony is acceptable only if there is corroborating evidence. This posed special problems for molestation cases in which the child victim was the only witness.
Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age of marriage is 18 years for men and 16 years for women. Muslim women younger than 16 years may marry with the approval of a sharia court. The country’s Sharia Judiciary Department reported 10,270 child marriage applications from 2005 to 2015. In some cases authorities treated early marriage as a solution to statutory rape. In June a court in Sarawak State acquitted a man of statutory rape after he married the 14-year-old victim. The government prosecutor was appealing the decision. In October the Ministry of Women, Family, and Community Development reported it had set up a task force to help regulate early marriages and limit abuses.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: A conviction for trafficking in persons involving a child for the purposes of sexual exploitation carries a punishment of three to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine. Under the law the minimum age for consensual, noncommercial sex is 16 years for both boys and girls. Homosexual acts are illegal regardless of age or consent. Sharia forbids sex outside of wedlock regardless of age or consent.
The law outlaws pornography and states that a child is considered a victim of sexual abuse if he or she has taken part, whether as a participant or an observer, in any activity that is sexual in nature for the purposes of a photograph, recording, film, videotape, or performance. Child prostitution existed, but authorities often treated children in prostitution as offenders or undocumented immigrants rather than as victims.
Displaced Children: The prevalence of street children was a problem in Sabah. Estimates of the street children population ranged from a few hundred to 15,000, many of whom were born in the country to illegal immigrant parents. Authorities deported some of these parents, leaving the children without guardians. These unaccompanied children lacked citizenship and access to schooling or other government-provided support and often resorted to menial labor, criminal activities, and prostitution to survive; those living on the streets were vulnerable to forced labor, including forced begging.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
The country’s Jewish population was estimated to be between 100 and 200 persons. Anti-Semitism was a serious problem across the political spectrum and attracted wide support among segments of the population. A 2015 Anti-Defamation League survey found 61 percent of citizens held anti-Jewish attitudes. Government-owned newspapers and statements by current and former political officeholders sometimes blamed civil society activity on “Jewish plots” or “Jewish conspiracies.”
In March Deputy Minister of Agriculture Tajuddin Abdul Rahman, a leader of the ruling UMNO party, accused government critics of working with “media controlled by Jews” to bring down PM Najib.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law gives persons with disabilities the right to equal access and use of public facilities, amenities, services, and buildings open or provided to the public. The Ministry of Women, Family, and Community Development is responsible for safeguarding the rights of persons with disabilities.
New government buildings generally had a full range of facilities for persons with disabilities. The government, however, did not mandate accessibility to transportation for persons with disabilities, and authorities retrofitted few older public facilities to provide access to persons with disabilities. Recognizing public transportation was not “disabled-friendly,” the government maintained its 50 percent reduction of excise duty on locally made cars and motorcycles adapted for persons with disabilities.
Employment discrimination occurred in relation to persons with disabilities (see section 7.d.). Students with disabilities attended mainstream schools, but accessibility remained a serious problem. Separate education facilities also existed, but were insufficient to meet the needs of all students with disabilities.
The constitution gives ethnic Malays and other indigenous groups, collectively known as “bumiputra,” a “special position” in the country, a status not accorded to ethnic Chinese or Indians. Government regulations and policies provide for extensive preferential programs designed to boost the economic position of bumiputra, who constitute a majority of the population. Such programs limited opportunities for non-bumiputra in higher education and government employment. Many industries were subject to race-based requirements that mandated bumiputra ownership levels; government procurement and licensing policies favor bumiputra-owned businesses. According to the government, these policies were necessary to attain ethnic harmony and political stability.
Despite the government’s stated goal of poverty alleviation, these race-based policies were not subject to upper-income limitations and contributed to widening economic disparity within the bumiputra community. Ethnic Indian citizens, who similarly to ethnic Chinese citizens do not receive such privileges, remained among the country’s poorest groups.
The constitution provides indigenous and nonindigenous people with the same civil and political rights, but the government did not effectively protect these rights. NGOs reported authorities frequently ignored indigenous people’s efforts to obtain identity cards.
Indigenous people in peninsular Malaysia, known as Orang Asli, had very little ability to participate in decisions that affected them. A constitutional provision provides for “the special position of the Malays and natives of any of the States of Sabah and Sarawak,” but it does not refer specifically to the Orang Asli. This ambiguity over the community’s status in the constitution led to selective interpretation by different public institutions. For example, although several states designated land for Orang Asli communities, an NGO claimed the national land code (which provides permanency of tenure to the more generous-sized lands of the indigenous peoples of Sabah and Sarawak) does not cover these lands.
The Orang Asli, who numbered approximately 180,000 (0.86 percent of the population) constituted the poorest group in the country. They do not own the land they live on, but rather the government permits them to live on designated land as at-will tenants, typically without documentation. The government can seize this land if it provides compensation. There were confrontations between the Orang Asli and logging companies over land disputes, and the uncertainty over their land tenure made the Orang Asli vulnerable to exploitation.
Indigenous people in Sabah and Sarawak protested encroachment by state and private logging and plantation companies onto land they considered theirs under native customary rights. They were disadvantaged, however, by laws allowing purchase of land with perfunctory newspaper notifications, to which indigenous persons might not have access. Indigenous groups also reported harassment by logging companies.
The Sarawak State government’s plan to build 12 hydroelectric dams threatened to displace tens of thousands of indigenous peoples.
Human rights organizations argued the June 21 murder of opposition politician Bill Kayong was motivated by the politician’s activism on land rights issues. Authorities arrested several suspects over the murder but prosecutors have not revealed a motive for the crime.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law states that sodomy and oral sex acts are “carnal intercourse against the order of nature,” but authorities rarely enforced it. It was, however, the basis for the controversial case against parliamentary opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim (see section 1.e.), currently serving a five-year prison sentence. Religious and cultural taboos against same-sex sexual conduct were widespread (see section 2.a.).
Authorities often charged transgender individuals for “indecent behavior” and “importuning for immoral purposes” in public. Those convicted of a first offense faced a maximum fine of 25 RM ($5.60) and a maximum sentence of 14 days in jail. The sentences for subsequent convictions may be maximum fines of 100 RM ($22.50) and a maximum of three months in jail. Local advocates contended that those imprisoned served their time in the male prison population where police and inmates often abused them verbally and sexually.
In April a gay student sought and gained refugee status in Canada after a local news site published his story along with a poll encouraging violence against the student.