PM scraps plan to curb female travel


KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysia’s prime minister shot down a plan Monday that would have required women traveling abroad alone to carry a letter from their parents verifying the reason for their journeys.

Foreign Minister Rais Yatim proposed the move over the weekend as a way of deterring the use of Malaysian women as couriers for illicit drugs, but the plan immediately drew criticism by women’s rights groups as being repressive and ineffective.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said in a statement issued through the national news agency, Bernama, that the proposal “will only create great difficulty, particularly for the immigration authorities and also the women concerned.”

The government will instead “issue a travel advisory asking all Malaysian citizens to be cautious when traveling out of the country,” Abdullah said.

Separately, Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar, who is responsible for immigration rules, told reporters that the idea “will not be practical.”

“How can we ask an adult person to report to the mother or to her parents? They have to lead their own lives,” Syed Hamid said. “We do not discriminate against women. So long as it is an adult person, it is within their right to travel anywhere.”

The proposal was born out of concern over government statistics that showed 119 Malaysians — 90 percent of them women — are imprisoned abroad for drug-related offenses. Most are age 21-27.

Drug traffickers who want to smuggle drugs into the European Union often recruit Malaysians because they do not require visas for short stays there. Rais said many women leave the country on the pretext of work or attending courses and seminars but end up working for international drug syndicates. He said a letter from the women’s parents or employers would weed out genuine travelers from those involved in illicit business.

Women’s groups said the idea was ridiculous because immigration authorities would have no way of identifying if a letter was forged or genuine. Also, they said it would be an infringement of human rights.

Syed Hamid, a former foreign minister, said the government will try to implement awareness programs to prevent women from being duped and will cooperate with Interpol to identify syndicates that use women.

“We have to create awareness so that they are not attracted by offers of handsomely paid jobs overseas unless they know the background of the person making the offer,” he said.