Missing Orang Asli children symptom of neglected, overlooked rural schools, parents say

Education minister Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid looks at the pictures of the seven students of Sekolah Kebangsaan Tolok who went missing in Gua Musang. — File pic
Education minister Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid looks at the pictures of the seven students of Sekolah Kebangsaan Tolok who went missing in Gua Musang. — File pic

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KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 16 ― The seven Orang Asli children who went missing in the jungles of Gua Musang nearly a month ago were supposed to be safe in the care of their teachers and boarding school warden, but carelessness and neglect resulted in their disappearance, parents said.

The Sekolah Kebangsaan Tolok students left the compounds of their dormitory through a broken fence and at a time when there were barely any teachers around, 40-year-old Midah Angah explained.

“Teachers only teach a full day's lesson three days a week. On Thursday and Monday, they're only there half the day, weekends only two teachers are around. They don't care at all,” Midah said, whose daughter and son were among the seven missing children.

“The back fence has always been broken. The condition there is terrible, it’s always been that way. They were in the care of the school, they should have been safe but their security isn't taken care of,” she added during the multi-faith prayer session at the Kuala Lumpur ― Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall organised by Projek Dialog last night.

Parents and relatives of the seven missing children spoke of a lack of communication from the school, its dilapidated conditions and attempts by teachers to shift the blame for the children’s' disappearance to the parents, all of which point to the larger problem of rural schools being often overlooked and poorly maintained.

But Midah said it was not always so.

“(Now) the students are left to their own devices, they do whatever they want, because the teachers don't care,” she said, when pointing out it took the school two days before lodging a report over the missing children.

Kelantan Orang Asli Village Network youth chief Dendi Johari said that until now, the school has not communicated to the parents that their children are missing, adding that they only found out from a security guard and fellow villagers.

He added that the school's “appalling” handling of the case has made other villagers not want to send their children to SK Tolok or similar boarding schools in the rural regions as other students may suffer the same alleged neglect.

“As an Orang Asli leader, I see the action of the school and it is very disappointing for us Orang Asli because always these people say Orang Asli don't want to go to school and the parents don't want to send their children to school but actually we do, we send from when they're seven-years-old to boarding schools.

“But now we are not sure about sending them to school because their safety is at risk. Also I heard all the Orang Asli saying they don't want to send their children to school because their safety isn't guaranteed,” he said.

Dendi went on to claim how teachers often behaved abusively towards students, with name-calling and caning allegedly being common practice.

According to Dendi, the alleged abuse was a “racial issue” and that the students were allegedly mistreated because they were Orang Asli.

On August 23, seven Orang Asli pupils comprising six girls and a boy, aged seven to 11 years, were reported missing after they left their boarding school to go home, believing that their older siblings had done the same.

The families now believe that the children were kidnapped after local villagers found no trace of the children in the jungles and several abduction attempts have occurred in Gua Musang, Kelantan.

The Malaysian Armed Forces last Wednesday sent more than 200 personnel and four Agusta combat helicopters to help in the search-and-rescue operations but there have been no results since.

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