Groups question formation of special panel on missing Orang Asli kids

By Anith Adilah

PETALING JAYA, Oct 13 — The proposed formation of a special Education Ministry committee to investigate the condition of Orang Asli children in hostels in the wake of the Pos Tohoi tragedy involving seven children has met with scepticism.

Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) commissioner James Nayagam questioned the timing of its formation and its objectives.

“Why is it (the committee) only being established now? How independent is it going to be? What are its terms of  reference? What type of mechanism will be used by them?” he asked.

He said the ministry should provide the committee with school inspection records for the past five years to ensure transparency in the inquiry.

“I am sure inspections have been done at SK Pos Tohoi before. Maybe then we can find out whether the allegations of misconduct by school authorities and ill-treatment made by the villagers are true,” he said.

According to Nayagam, Suhakam will conduct its own investigations into why seven children fled the SK Pos Tohoi hostel, resulting in four confirmed deaths.

“A meeting is to be held to consider the form of response to be taken. Our investigations will also include site visits,” he said.

Education director-general Datuk Seri Dr Khair Mohamad Yusof said yesterday that the committee would include various agencies that would look at the development, safety, welfare and health aspects of the hostels.

The committee, to be chaired by the deputy director-general of education (education operations sector), would have three months to prepare and submit recommendations to the ministry for improvements.

The ministry would also organise training sessions on the culture and way of life of the orang asli for teachers in such schools. 

Malaysian Crime Prevention Foundation vice-president Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye said the incident reflected the irresponsibility of those entrusted with the care and education of the children.

“Had serious attention been given to the pupils in the first place, this tragedy would not have occurred,” he said. 

Lee urged the ministry to get to the root of the problem to avoid a recurrence.

“Three families have lost their children over the school’s negligence. This incident warrants a more proactive action by the ministry,” he said.

He said the ministry should set up a high-powered inquiry to seek justice for the families of the children.

Malay Mail quoted villagers on Monday as having said that they had been initially been kept in the dark about the children’s disappearance.

According to them, children at the hostel of SK Pos Tohoi had allegedly been forced to sleep on the cement floor and wear dirty uniforms to class.