Categorised | Letters to the Editor

Making Sarawak’s interior safer

THE Sarawak Women for Women Society (SWWS) welcomes the proposals emerging to tackle the issue of sexual abuse in the interior of the state. All the recommendations from the Penan task force, the Sarawak Women and Family Council and the Sarawak Teacher’s Union will go a long way towards securing the safety of the girls.

SWWS particularly welcomes the idea of the Department of Education increasing the number of sponsored trips for boarders or hostel students to and from the school to their villages, from two to four times a year. This includes the provision of four-wheel-drive vehicles for the schools, and the employment of more assistant student managers to accompany the students as they travel to and from school.

There are, however, other areas which also require attention:

Address sexual harassment

One is that all major employers and companies with operations in the interior, including the plantation sector and the logging industry, should adopt and adhere to the sexual harassment code of practice endorsed by the human resources ministry. It should be explained to employees that they will be subjected to disciplinary inquiry proceedings if complaints are received from people from the surrounding areas as well as other staff. Compulsory adoption of the Code could be a condition set by the government or licensing authorities for such companies to operate.

Improve MyKad registration services

A further measure is to overcome the longstanding problem of issuing identification cards (ICs) to the communities deep in the interior. Without an IC proving their citizenship, many Penan women will be too scared to approach the authorities for help if they are abused.

Initiatives such as the deployment by the National Registration Department of mobile units, whose officers can accept applications for birth certificates and MyKad, are very welcome. However, they would only resolve the problem if they are systematically deployed and extend their role to distribution of documentations, not just processing applications. This is necessary as the costs of travelling to the urban administration centres makes it almost impossible for the poorer members of the remote communities to obtain such essential documentation. The service therefore needs to be taken to them.

Upgrade roads

Sarawakians are well aware of the problems of reaching citizens deep in the interior. Without decent roads, the cost of travelling to the dispersed communities is phenomenally high. Many go without the level of services their fellow Malaysians take for granted. There is a great need for more realistic budgets from the federal government to overcome the additional expenses service providers face.

In the long term, we need the roads opened up by the logging companies to be taken over by the government so that in due course they can be upgraded into proper legal roads. Such action has already been taken in parts of Sabah; for instance, roads to settlements in the Crocker Range. With more connectivity, there would be less isolation and more opportunity for people to report abusive situations to the authorities.

Ann Teo
30 Sept 2009

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