There’s something to learn from the single mother of nine who was sentenced to death. No, it’s not the evil of drugs

By now, you have probably seen the heart-wrenching video of a single mother of nine after she was sentenced to death for the possession and distribution of illegal drugs. In 2018, Madam Hairun Jalmani was caught with 113.9g worth of syabu.

In the short 45 seconds video, she is led away by a policewoman at the Tawau High Court as she wail in distress. She is inconsolable as she begs for help, weeping, “Tolong!” 

Those 45 seconds are uncomfortable to watch. So some of us try to feel better by saying that it was her own fault. She knew what she was getting herself into. The death penalty on drug traffickers like her is necessary in our war against drugs because drugs are bad.

I agree that drugs are evil.

Drugs ruin society. Families suffer; people die. Our country has a drug problem. Thus, laws that punish drug possession are necessary. We must hang the likes of her. She is collateral in our war against drugs. It is necessary.

This makes sense. Or… does it? 

Let’s sit with the discomfort from that video for a moment. Is sending this single mother of nine to the gallows necessary to combat our country’s drug problem?

Consider the following:

1. She was a drug mule. So she was at the end of the supply chain

Sure, we get rid of one drug mule. But the syndicate is just going to find another one to replace her.

Will taking out the final link of the supply chain disrupt the supply chain?

Say we don’t want McDonald’s selling any more Big Macs. Because Big Macs cause heart attacks that are ruining families. 

So we think, ah, why not punish the delivery riders! That way, there will be no more link between Big Macs and the public, right?

With the implementation of this rule, most riders dropped the gig like a hot potato, for fear of getting caught. A few riders need the cash and stick around, and some get caught. For a moment, there is limited distribution of Big Macs to the Malaysian public.

But McDonald’s is still there. McDonald’s lives. Nabbing the riders did no good.

Because McDonald’s quickly find substitutes to replace the delivery riders. Soon, there are Big Macs on the streets again.

Hang Madam Hairun, and the syndicate will just bring in someone else to replace her.

This brings us to our next point.

2. The desperate and marginalised end up as drug mules anyway

Why do people become drug mules? Why would anybody risk getting caught? It’s the money, of course.

The syndicate lures the desperate with lucrative financial rewards. 

Sure, there are those who did not lack money but were enticed by the promise of riches beyond their wildest imagination. 

But more likely, drug mules accept the gig because of school fees. Elderly parents to care for. Debts to pay. Or say, nine children to feed

New Naratif found that vulnerable women are susceptible to becoming drug mules, women like Madam Hairun. Of the 141 women on death row in Malaysia in early 2019, 73% were convicted of drug trafficking. Before their arrest, these women did low-paid, low-skilled, short-term work with no job security or legal protection. Many of them were bartenders, maids, masseuses, and domestic workers.

Did Madam Hairun, a single mother and fishmonger, receive financial assistance to feed the nine mouths waiting at home?

Those who exist on the fringe of society have to eat. They have bills to pay. They need money. These marginalised ones get preyed on by the syndicate and end up as drug mules.

I doubt Madam Hairun has a Birkin handbag sitting in the unnumbered house at Kampung Pangkalan Wakuba, Batu 15, Jalan Apas, Tawau, Sabah where she was arrested. Chances are that she was a desperate single mother who needed cash.

Picture credit: Colin Davis @ Unsplash

3. The death penalty is not a deterrence against the drug trade

According to the UN Human Rights Committee, there is no evidence that the death penalty is an effective deterrence against the drug trade. On the contrary, the drug trade continues to flourish around the world, despite punitive laws in most countries.

In Malaysia, despite the death penalty for drug traficking, the total number of drug and substance addicts in Malaysia has remained at 128,000 since 2018. The death penalty does not work as a deterrence.

The desperate will do what they have to do to survive. 

We can execute the drug mules. But the marginalised have to eat, nonetheless. And when the systemic failures of our economic systems deal them sucky cards, they use the limited options they have to put food on the table. Including transporting drugs.

If we don’t want people to become drug mules, we must first ensure that they are not pushed into a corner where money problems force them to become drug mules.

The risk of the death penalty isn’t going to solve anything if one’s economic state gives one no choice.

When we consider the systemic problems that led to this single mother of nine at the gallows, the injustice should paralyse us.

In a parallel universe, it just might have been you and I with no money and nine mouths to feed. It just might have been you and I with limited options. You and I might get preyed on by the syndicate. It just might be you and I headed for the gallows.


Chow Ping Lee is a content writer under Headliner by Newswav, a programme where content creators get to tell their unique stories through articles and at the same time monetize their content within the Newswav app.
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Chow Ping Lee
Author: Chow Ping Lee

My guiding principle: The mediocrely courageous live a long, happy life.