Page last updated at 00:10 GMT, Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Malaysian plan to tackle suicides

Police in Malaysia are considering arresting people who attempt suicide as a deterrent to stem the rising number of people killing themselves, reports the BBC's Robin Brant.

Danny Ong
Even if the police spoke to me and said 'If you jump we will catch you', I would still jump
Danny Ong
Danny Ong is 46 but he does not look it. He is married with two children. The first thing he showed me when I went to his home was pictures of them.

Two years ago he contemplated killing himself.

I met Danny at his 5th floor apartment on the eastern side of Kuala Lumpur.

He bought the place with money from a successful hair salon and restaurant business. But the company collapsed in 2006 - and he collapsed with it.

"I felt sad, felt negative," he said. "I felt that life had no more hope, that no-one could help me. Life had finished. No more hope."

As we talked on his balcony he gestured over the edge and said: "Standing here I would think about the meaning of life? Why not jump? Every time I would think about why I wanted to jump and about my family and children."


As Malaysia has got richer more people like Danny have emerged.

The suicide rate has increased, particularly amongst the country's Muslim Malay majority.

Government figures show barely a few dozen suicides in 2008. But the true number is likely to be far, far higher.

Professor Ruzman Nor
Professor Nor says those who attempt suicide can be counselled in jail

The health minister has said publicly that there are on average seven suicides a day.

Suicide is deeply taboo in Malaysia. I was told that doctors might record a death as "natural causes" to spare a family the shame associated with suicide.

Taking your own life is a sin for Muslims. Islamic law expert Professor Ruzman Nor showed me where it is mentioned in the Koran.

"Allah says 'Oh yea who believe do not kill yourself for truly Allah has been to you most merciful. If any do that in rancour and injustice soon shall we cast him into the fire.'"

Arrests are rare but two cases have come to court in recent years. Mr Nor thinks that prison is an appropriate way to deal with some cases.

"This law is suitable for our culture. When someone has been jailed for attempting suicide, during confinement in jail there will be counselling to make them realise that what they have done is not right."


Richard is a "befriender". The charity he works for operates a 24-hour helpline from a building just outside Kuala Lumpur, for anyone who wants to talk.

The Befrienders estimate that for every suicide in Malaysia there are 20 attempts. They take calls from people of every race and religion.

The last time the Befrienders advertised, they could not cope with the jump in calls.

"We feel that prosecution and punishment are not the approach," said the head of the organisation, S Gangadara Vadivel.

"I think the role the police could play is to make sure that these people get help, even if they need a court order to get them treatment - but not to punish."

At Danny Ong's apartment, he prepared some food for us; chopped apples and bottled water. He has a healthy lifestyle.

But when he opened the fridge I saw the true picture; one side is filled with food, the other side is half full with medication. He still takes a lot of pills.

Danny came very close to taking his own life. He thinks there is only one thing that can deter you from doing it - and it is not a police officer threatening to arrest you.

"Even if the police spoke to me and said: 'If you jump we will catch you', I would still jump."

It would have no effect, he said "because you already have depression. Nobody can stop you because... something is already wrong; not even your father, mother or the police."

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