Malaysia drops idea of travel restriction for women

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia rejected on Monday a proposal to impose restrictions on women travelling overseas on their own following an outcry from women’s groups.

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Home (Interior) Minister Syed Hamid Albar said his ministry could not impose conditions requiring women to get written consent from their family before they can travel abroad alone.

“There cannot be (such) a rule,” the national Bernama news agency quoted him as telling reporters.

“When a person applies for a passport, we don’t ask them where they are going. A person who wants to travel, makes his or her own decision to travel and how they are going to do it is up to them.”

Foreign Minister Rais Yatim said on Saturday both the foreign and home ministries mooted the idea in response to a string of cases where women travelling alone were used by international drug syndicates to smuggle drugs across borders.

The Foreign Ministry clarified on Monday that Rais’s proposal only related to children and women below 21 years of age.

“The proposal to facilitate young persons with parental letters of intent would not be a violation of human rights since it would, if accepted, only apply to those who are still under the legal guardianship of their parents to begin with,” the ministry said in a statement.

“The proposal is not in any way intended to belittle or violate any rights.”

Women’s groups over the weekend had reacted with outrage, calling the proposal “ridiculous” and “regressive”.

One of the groups, Sisters in Islam, declined to speculate a hidden religious motive but said the idea assumed women were less capable than men to make decisions.

At the weekend, Bernama portrayed the proposal as an anti-crime measure rather than a religiously inspired idea and said it aimed to ensure that a woman’s family would “monitor her departure and serve as a preventive measure against being duped”.

Rais was quoted as saying that the idea came out of a review of criminal cases involving Malaysians abroad. In 119 cases of Malaysian women being brought before foreign courts, about 90 percent were linked to drugs, he said.

Reporting by Niluksi Koswanage and Liau Y-Sing; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani