Thursday, September 10, 2009

The rape of young Penan girls

MIRI/ KUCHING: Sarawak police say they would not be able to nail the loggers who raped and sexually abused Penan women and girls in timber concession zones despite a government report that confirmed these crimes -- not unless they get detailed information.

The Women and Family Affairs Ministry has confirmed that these crimes -- first uncovered by the Bruno Manser Fund on its website, then highlighted by local media -- had taken place, but police said they need detailed information that can lead them to these rapists.

The head of the Criminal Investigation Department in Sarawak, Senior Asst Comm 2 Huzir Mohamed, told The Star on Thursday that the police need more detailed and specific information like names, dates and places.

“We need the names of specific victims, where they can be found, more accurate information on the dates and places of the incidents and descriptions of the people who had committed these (sexual crimes).

“We need to interview these victims. If the report is too general and not precise, it will be difficult for us to probe effectively.

“The ministry must furnish us with more details,” he said when was asked whether the police could launch an investigation to pinpoint the rapists following the ministry’s public disclosure that there had been numerous cases of rape and sexual abuse against Penan girls and women in Ulu Baram in northern Sarawak.

When they first investigated the case, the police found no evidence of these crimes, Inspector-Gene­ral of Police Tan Sri Musa Hassan said in November last year.

However, the continuing public outcry over the horrific crime prompted the Government to study the matter more deeply.

The 111-page report was compiled by a special committee set up by the ministry on Oct 8 last year.

The committee visited numerous Penan settlements in Long Item, Long Kawi, Long Luteng, Long Belok and Niah and said that it had identified several Penan girls and women who had been raped and sexually violated.

The committee members, made up of representatives from several ministries, spoke to these victims in the settlements, as well as two victims who were brought to the Women’s Aid Organisation shelter home in Selangor.

The two victims, aged 17 and 21, had also lodged police reports in Bukit Aman.

“For every case, the committee had difficulties in getting the exact dates of the incidents because the victims could not remember the exact details,” the report said, stressing that these incidents happened years ago.

The report described the testimonies of a 17-year old “Cindy” who said she was raped when she was 12.

She said she was raped by a logging company worker (the name of the company was also disclosed) inside a boarding school, outside the school and when she took a ride on the logger’s vehicle from Long Kawi to Long Lama.

Raping 10yr-old girls
Another girl “Bibi” said she was raped twice by a logger named “Johnny” and she became pregnant in 2005.

The report said the victim told the committee that she did not lodge a police report because she did not know where to go to do so.

She was also uneducated and afraid, said the report, adding that some of the victims had been sexually violated when they were only 10.

The report also said schoolgirls were often molested by lorry drivers while travelling to school in timber company vehicles.

It documented one incident in which a 14-year-old girl’s breasts were touched by a lorry driver. In another incident, a lorry driver tried to molest a group of 10-year-old girls but they managed to escape.

The report highlighted the vulnerability of Penan schoolgirls to such abuse because of their dependence on timber vehicles to transport them to and from school.

“The Penans are overly dependent on timber companies because logging tracks are often the only means of access to their villages,” it said, adding that schools and clinics were four to six hours away by logging track and the Penans were too poor to afford their own transport.

The report said the Penans were also afraid that the authorities may not believe them and would accuse them of trying to create trouble for the logging companies.

The report, however, said that there are Penan women and girls who had admitted to having sexual affairs with some of these loggers, adding that there were some who had married these timber workers.

In the report, the ministry did not recommend what the police should do nor provide exact details of the criminals, where they could be found or if they are still working with the timber company concerned.

Addressing the issue
A copy of the report was released to PKR women’s chief Zuraida Kamaruddin by the ministry on Tuesday and subsequently made available on the Sarawak-based blog Hornbill Unleashed.

On addressing the sexual abuse, the report called for programmes to be conducted to raise the awareness of the Penans on personal safety, sex education and violence against women.

It also recommended the appointment of “trusted” lorry drivers and student management assistants to escort Penan schoolchildren back to their villages.

The report also found that the Penans had little access to registration, healthcare and education due to their poverty and the remoteness of their settlements.

It said many Penans did not have personal documents while their children had a high drop-out rate at school.

“All these issues are closely related to imbalanced development. The lack of infrastructure such as roads and public transport make it difficult for the Penan to communicate with the outside world including government agencies.

“The Penans also feel neglected because of negative perceptions and prejudices against them,” it said.

As such, it said there should be greater involvement of the Penans in the process of making decisions which affect them.

Meanwhile, the Bruno Manser Fund, which first broke the Penans’ allegations of sexual abuse last September, welcomed the release of the task force’s report.

However, it voiced concern that the report apparently did not have any legal consequences for the perpetrators.

“It is high time that those responsible for the crimes described in the report will face the legal consequences of their conduct,” it said in a statement released on the Borneo Project website.

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