Gov’t report confirms Penan girls were raped
Keruah Usit | Sep 9, 09 11:14am
The government has made public a shocking report on sexual abuse of Penan girls and women by logging camp workers in Baram, Sarawak.
Women, Family and Community Development Minister Shahrizat Abdul Jalil yielded to pressure from civil society groups to investigate the claims.
The report was handed over to PKR women’s chief Zuraida Kamaruddin on Sept 8, almost a year after media accounts of rape of Penan girls by loggers first appeared.
The report lists at least eight cases of sexual abuse of Penan girls and women by logging camp workers. The report said several of the victims were schoolgirls as young as 10.
Local NGOs claim these documented cases were only a small fraction of the total number of cases of sexual abuse.
The ministry’s National Task Force was commissioned by the cabinet on Oct 8 last year, to investigate the claims.
The ministry’s team visited Long Item, Long Kawi, Long Luteng, Long Belok, Kampung Ugos, Jambatan Suai, Niah between Nov 10 and 15 last year.
Shahrizat’s predecessor, Ng Yen Yen, had promised a transparent investigation. The team was led by director-general of the Department of Women’s Development, Dr Noorul Ainor Mohd Nor.
The team was made up of several federal ministries, Sarawak government agencies and NGOs, Women’s Aid Organisation and Women’s Centre for Change, Penang.
The team concluded that “allegations of sexual abuse of Penan girls and women by outsiders dealing with the Penan, including logging company workers and merchants, did indeed take place”.
The protracted delay in releasing the report opened Shahrizat to accusations of trying to cover up the scandal which displeased powerful logging companies in Sarawak.
Shahrizat (right) had previously refused to comment on the delay and instead invited “interested parties” to view the report at her ministry’s office in Putrajaya.
Fear of retaliation
The report said the girls’ vulnerability, widespread poverty and “dependency on the logging companies for transportation into towns, including sending and ferrying of children to and from schools” was among the reasons for incidents of sexual abuse.
It also said poverty and lack of access to transportation have “prevented many residents from going into towns to register their children’s births, and as a result many have no identity cards”.
The team also found that access to healthcare and education is inadequate because of the long distances required to travel to schools and clinics.
Noorul’s team interviewed two victims, Cindy and Bibi (not their real names). The two girls had travelled to Kuala Lumpur to make police reports at Bukit Aman.
Bibi told her interviewers that she had been raped on two occasions by Johnny (not his real name).
Bibi said she did not report the incident to the police because she was illiterate; furthermore, “she did not know how to make a report”.
She did not tell her family who the rapist was because she was afraid of retaliation. She said Johnny had sent food to her family and claimed her as his wife.
But Bibi rejected him because she said, Johnny already has two wives, one of whom is a Penan.
Johnny was portrayed as a loving husband and father by reports in a local Sarawak newspaper, owned by a timber company.
Cindy said she was raped when she was 12 by an unidentified ‘outsider’, and then raped again years later by a logging camp worker. She bore a child as result of the second rape.
Sexual abuse ‘common’
The girls were quoted in the report as saying that it is a regular and common occurrence for logging camp workers to sexually abuse girls who hitch rides to and from school.
One girl, aged 10, said she and her classmates were taken to some bushes when they hitched a ride on a logging truck to get home from school, and that the driver had attempted to rape her.
Other schoolgirls described how logging truck drivers forced schoolboys and other passengers off the vehicles, and made off with young girls.
The girls said they usually told their own families of the sexual abuse but not their teachers, because “they were afraid the teachers would accuse them of lying in order to avoid going to school”.
The girls said they were afraid of being caned and punished if they reported the abuse to their teachers.
The report concluded that these communities reject such sexual violence.
However, it went on to say the Penan are vulnerable to such abuse because they are deprived of basic transportation and facilities such as healthcare, access to schools, water and electricity supply.
The Penan are also vulnerable because of prejudice against them, and a lack of trust in government authorities, according to the report.
Neither the Sarawak police nor Bukit Aman have mounted a credible investigation into the government’s own findings.
The full report is available at http://www.malaysiakini.com/doc/laporan_hasil_penyiasatan.php