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It has been confirmed that Penan girls and women were raped and molested by timber company workers in Sarawak’s Ulu Baram district in Malaysia.
A special committee, set up by the women, family and community development ministry, revealed that sexual abuses against Penan women and girls by timber workers as reported by The Star last year did take place in the Baram district.
The special committee, set up last October to investigate the allegations, documented at least eight cases of rape and molest of Penan women and girls in its report.
The report said one of the victims was raped by a timber worker when she hitched a ride in the company’s vehicle to go to school.
Another was raped twice, in 2005 and 2007, by a man she recognised as a timber worker at a logging camp.
The report also said schoolgirls were often molested by lorry drivers while travelling to school in timber company vehicles.
It documented one incident where a lorry driver groped a 14-year-old girl’s breasts.
In another incident, it said a lorry driver tried to molest a group of 10-year-old girls, but they escaped.
The report concluded that “allegations of sexual abuse against Penan girls and women by outsiders, including timber workers, did indeed occur”.
It highlighted the vulnerability of Penan schoolgirls to such abuse because of their dependence on timber vehicles to transport them to and from school.
“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.
On addressing the sexual abuse, the report called for programmes to raise awareness among 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 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 Penans to communicate with the outside world, including government agencies.
“The Penans also feel neglected because of negative perceptions and prejudices against them,” it said.
Meanwhile, the Bruno Manser Fund, which first broke the Penans’ allegations of sexual abuse last September, welcomed the release of the special committee’s report.
However, it voiced concern that the report did not have any legal consequences for the perpetrators.
“It is high time that those responsible for the crimes described in the report face the legal consequences of their conduct,” it said in a statement released on the Borneo Project web site.
The horror the Penan girls and women went through.
> A girl, 12, was raped by a stranger outside her hostel and by a timber worker when she took a lift in a timber company’s vehicle from her village in Long Kawi to her school in Long Lama. She got pregnant, quit school and married a Penan man.
> A woman from Long Item was raped by a timber worker in 2005 and 2007 and gave birth to a baby girl, now two years old.
> One was raped by an Iban timber worker when she was kidnapped at the age of 13, while visiting her relatives in Miri.
> One was almost raped when she took a lift with her father from a timber company to apply for an identity card.
> In Long Muboi, a student said her 14-year-old friend was molested by a truck driver who gave her a lift to school.
> A 17-year-old girl gave birth to a child and her neighbours claimed that she had sexual relations with the timber workers.
> A group of women said they believed that sex exploitation exists among the Penan women and girls but they were too ashamed to tell their stories.
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