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Penan girls and women were sexually violated

Shadowy interior of a Penan home (Pics courtesy of Sofiyah Israa @ Flickr)

PETALING JAYA, 9 Sept 2009: Nearly a year after, a government task force report has confirmed that Penan women and children in Sarawak were raped and sexually abused by timber workers.

The report by the national task force set up in October last year also found troubling incidents of children as young as 10 years old being sexually abused by the timber companies’ truck drivers when they took the children to school. 

The task force reported that students were “frequently molested” by the truck drivers.

“In one account, the truck driver molested a 14-year-old’s breasts on the journey to school,” the report, written in Malay, said.

It said that in another incident, a girl was taken away by the truck driver after the boys were told to get down from the vehicle. Other girls in the truck managed to escape, but were unable to help that one girl get down in time.

In yet another instance, a girl was riding, together with her father, in a timber truck to go to Long Bangan to apply for her identity card. “Halfway through the journey, the passengers were told to alight, but the driver hung on to Mary (not her real name) and sped off. He then stopped the truck, dragged her to a bush by the side of the road and tried to molest her. 

“Her father and the other passengers ran after the truck after realising that Mary had been apprehended, and managed to catch up with them and stop any further abuse,” the report said.

An interviewee told the task force she had been raped by the timber company’s truck driver on her way to a neighbouring longhouse, in addition to being raped when she was 12 outside the school compound by an unidentified man.

“She recalled that the government used to provide vehicles to take them home from school during the term breaks. However, this had been discontinued, so they had to rely on the timber companies as the only means of transportation,” the report noted.

In the absence of any viable alternatives such as proper tarred roads or school buses, Penan children who live in the interior are entirely reliant on the timber companies for transport as some of their schools are located four to six hours away by truck.

The report was prepared mostly from interviews conducted by ministry officials and other representatives, including women’s groups, in November 2008 when they visited the Penan community in Sarawak. The task force was set up to investigate the allegations of rape and sexual abuse of Penan women and girls in the Baram district.

Surprising release

After close to a year of not wanting to make the report public, the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry released a copy of the report to Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) Wanita chief Zuraida Kamaruddin on 8 Sept.

“After months of unanswered calls and letters to the minister, I went to see the minister (Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil) yesterday and was informed by her staff that I could collect the report,” Zuraida told The Nut Graph over the phone.

The report was subsequently made available to The Nut Graph via e-mail.

No explanation was given by the ministry as to why the report could not be made public initially. The ministry has also yet to explain why it took so long to make the report available to the public despite numerous calls to do so in the interest of public accountability.

Penan woman

Bigger picture

Apart from documenting the individual instances of rape and sexual abuse, the task force also found that the Penan were especially vulnerable because of their low socioeconomic status and lack of access to government and healthcare services.

The factors that cause the community’s vulnerability include overdependence on timber companies for transportation and other services, poverty, and the remoteness of their villages.

The report also cited the Penan’s distrust of the authorities, and their low self-esteem as a result of prejudices against them.

“All these factors — sexual violations, not having ICs, health problems, dropping out of schools — are closely related to imbalanced development. The lack of roads and public transportation causes the Penan difficulties in engaging with the outside world, including government agencies.

“In order to ensure more balanced development, the involvement of the Penan in matters that affect their lives must be increased,” the report said.

The report also made several specific proposals to address sexual abuse, including raising awareness within the Penan community on personal safety, violence towards women, and sex education.

“Teachers in Penan schools would also need to be educated to be sensitive to the specific needs and difficulties faced by the community,” the report said.

The task force also proposed for “trusted vehicle drivers” and a pupil management assistant to accompany the Penan children back to their villages. No specific proposals were mooted on how to make it easier for those who have been raped and sexually abused in the Penan community to report such incidents. 

Despite the task force’s findings, it remains to be seen whether any of the offenders will be charged and brought to justice for the sexual abuse perpetrated on the Penan women and children. Although several police reports have been made, it is unclear whether the police will be investigating the matter.

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24 Responses to “Penan girls and women were sexually violated”

  1. summerjw says:

    A very good account of how vulnerable the Penan girls are …’s timely to speak for those who have no voice and hopefully, the authorities will do SOMETHING!!!

  2. Kamal says:

    It is dissapointing that demands to see the report was stonewalled by the ministry. And how shocking to find that the report indeed substantiates claims of rape of women and minors. And yet, the police have not taken public action to redeem themselves? Why have these individuals and companies not been brought to task? Instead what we hear of late is how a logging company has dismantled a bridge leaving Penans who are having a food shortage without reliable and quick access. Are logging companies the government in this part of Sarawak and profits their only concern?

  3. reza says:

    Is there anything the public can do to help address this?

  4. TAIB says:

    Sarawak/Malaysian government, AG and the Police DiRaja Malaysia will not acknowledge this. It does not [need] a rocket scientist to prove [this] ugly fact. It happens so often and all the villagers are aware of it. The protectors of law choose to play down the crimes. Sarawakians, wake up and do something for humanity!

  5. ZZZZ says:

    […] ..[these] timber guys were animals, yet the government take no action against them…..

  6. Tup Seketup says:

    The wakil rakyat should be interrogated. Ask him/her why this kind of incident happened in his/her constituency.

  7. tomzee says:

    I am very sad [that] in this century, we are still backwards when it involves human abuse. This mentality needs to be corrected before we can progress to [become] world class human beings. I suggest we establish a fund to assist the Penan to be self-reliant in their basic needs in terms of schools, health, transportation, amenities, etc. We can go to local and international institutions to raise funds. We need to assist the Penan communities to meet the challenges in this forever-changing world.

  8. Nathan says:

    The first time I heard of Penan was back in the 80s (I was still in primary school) where there was an issue of human rights violations highlighted by a white activist fighting for the rights of these people. It was during Dr M’s age…the dark age for human rights in Malaysia.

    I even remember Dr M commented “NGO, jangan nak mengada-ngada” in an interview when issues [were raised] of the livelihood of Penan and [the destuction of the] ecosystem during [the] Bakun dam construction. A very clear threat to NGOs for interfering in government affairs. Just like the timber lorry drivers raped the Penan women and children, the BN-controlled state government “raped” Sarawak, ripped off her wealth to enrich the politicians and their families.

    Sad to see that the present government is still treating Penan as animals, and shame on Dr M for pointing fingers at the Aussie accusing them of ill-treating the aboroginies as animals. One day, I believe that Dr M will repent [for the] acrocities that he has done to these people, and apologise as Kevin Rudd did.

  9. Gopal Raj Kumar says:

    It is hypocritical, and a cheap exploitation at another level, to focus on the plight of Penan women […] when women of all other races are exploited and abused daily by the very same fingers that point to government in the case of the Penan.

    This is a cheap political exercise where Penan continue to be used as a prop by The Nut Graph and all those other single purposed anti-government institutions it supports shamelessly.

    The plight of the Penan are the result of their exploitation by [logging] companies and their shareholders who have displaced these people in the first place. It is no secret that the families behind these companies are themselves descendants of failed dynastic rulers of the states in which the Penan live, who now rule through stealth of money politics and apologists like The Nut Graph.

  10. yong says:

    Why go so far to Sarawak — even here in West Malaysia, not everyone gets aid from the government.

    Reports are seldom made public. Reports to authorities are not investigated! […] wrongs which the police can investigate [….] as provided in the Police Act is not done – due to ignorance or this provision or what?

  11. jenk says:

    It’s very disheartening when we read news regarding sexual abuses, murder and all the other crimes that happen in our home country and nothing gets done to correct the circumstances… lives are destroyed due to another being’s selfish act/temporary gratification… worst part is, these people who deserve the rightful punishment, get away with it and [are] free to repeat their crime… articles such as these should be made public and published in every media in order to increase awareness in society to pressure the authorities to serve justice and protect the innocent!

  12. Pen Datang says:

    State-sponsored genocide? Clearing the way to harvest resources? Remember Bruno Manser! […]

  13. lkl says:

    Thanks for continuously highlighting this issue.

    I heard the government is giving monies to civil servants for Aidilfitri. Are they going to do the same for the Penan? Last time I checked, Sarawak is still part of Malaysia. Therefore, Penan are still part of us.

    I hope all Malaysians, especially the Semenanjung Malaysians, will take up this issue. THE PENAN ARE MALAYSIANS!

  14. Rajesh says:

    Makes one sad and angry that fellow Malaysians are subjected to this! What action is our “beloved” minister (Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil) going to do about this?! PLEASE DO SOMETHING!

  15. Gallivanter says:

    Unfortunately, the report is useless as there is NO mention of action taken to investigate the cases thoroughly and to go after the perpetrators. How disappointing!

  16. David Pek says:

    It’s good to bring out this matter [into the open] as it’s very crucial seeing [that] the basic rights of being a Malaysian is not provided and worse still, continues being ignored. The Penan people in Sarawak are also part of Malaysia and no less Malaysian!

  17. damian lim says:

    Am glad the report is out. When will it be made public?

    Hi Damian,

    It is already publicly available on the ministry’s website here:


  18. satyromaniaman says:

    The police has stated that it needs all the details before it can take any action. This begs the question: If all the details have been obtained, what investigative work is left for the police to conduct?

    Can someone please clearly outline the duties of the police force?

    What are the suggestions coming forth to end this?

    Can the Penan people have their education in a place where they do not have to use the truckers? How much will this cost?

    Can the Penan people be given a mode of transportation of their own? How much will this cost?

    How do we separate these truckers and keep them away from the Penan women?

  19. Gopal Raj Kumar says:

    It is indeed disturbing that the selective editing (or censoring) of a contribution through a response on your publication leaves out those bits that go to the heart of the allegations of rape and other forms of abuse against Penan women.

    The fact that the same logging company bosses select for themselves the prettiest and most attractive to have sex with then send them off to work in brothels controlled by them being edited from my previous comment on this subject is disturbing. It raises all sorts of questions about The Nut Graph’s independence and impartiality.

    The allegations I make can be and have been verified and documented by the SBS (TV) in Australia in their documentaries on large Sarawakian timber companies operating in Papua New Guinea and other faraway countries. Its nexus to the many brothels that have sprung up at logging camps where many of these girls appear as ‘wives’ and ‘cooks’ or ‘domestic help’.

    Your wanton censorship of the truth is of itself indicative that you have no desire for the truth, for facts or for justice unless it suits your narrow and biased perceptions of these concepts.

  20. Dr. Amrit Sekhon says:

    Whole [gang] from CM, cabinet, teachers and police chief in Sarawak, should be charged for harbouring, condoning and being accomplices to these culprits who carried out these acts.

    While the victims were voicing out, it’s the authorities who ignored the victims’ please.

    Attorney-General and IGP should be [punished] if they do not file charges against them.

  21. @Gopal Raj Kumar,

    I’m going to have to sound like a broken record for having to repeat myself but since you keep raising the same complaint about being “censored” on The Nut Graph, here goes. All comments are moderated according to our comments policy. This policy is publicly available here:

    If you don’t agree with our comments policy or don’t want to be edited, you are free to take your comments to any other site that does not moderate or has a different comments policy.

    I suspect, however, that you must enjoy being “censored” and that’s why you keep coming back to leave comments which don’t meet the standards in our policy. Perchance it’s so that you can complain loudly that you’ve been censored and can continue your tirade about The Nut Graph? That’s the only reason I can think of about why you would keep coming back if you’re so dissatisfied with this site’s standards and its supposed lack of honesty.

    No matter. But I’m sure you know that broken records tend to get predictable and boring after a while, just as I’ve just clearly demonstrated myself.

  22. Gopal Raj Kumar says:

    It is sad when a publication such as yours through one of its personnel such as you should apply the ultimate white flag of ‘why don’t you go somewhere else’ (“you are free to take your comments to any other site that does not moderate or has a different comments policy”) as a response to my criticism of your unethical (in journalistic sense) conduct through censorship.

    Your censorship of my postings on The Nut Graph is more than the exercise of editorial discretion. It amounts to a misrepresentation and distortion of my views as I present them in my postings on many of your topics that invite responses including this one on the Penan.

    The fact of responding to my complaint on more than one occasion by allowing the censored content to re appear in my subsequent letters is not a very subtle admission of the offence on your part. Of your own material it is an admission of the truth and the substance of my complaints.

    Had there been a real policy of any substance and consistency in its application, my subsequent responses in protest would not have seen the light of day. By implication of your conduct there has been censorship of my postings. By adding the censored material to the censored posting, it presents a complete picture with a totally different meaning attached to it with wider implications to the response than it would have otherwise for your censorship.

    I do admit to writing spontaneously ‘on the run’ without preparation which sometimes leads to spelling and in some instances grammatical errors. A bit desultory you might say. However, there is no justification in distortions of the truth or the facts through a deliberate concealment of facts so as to amount to a misrepresentation of the truth.

    A disclaimer in the form of your comments policy is no defence to misrepresentation and therefrom deliberate distortions of my letters leading to a possible defamation.

    It is weak and reflective of an even weaker mindset of a vandal with an aversion to the truth.

    You condemn all and sundry within Malaysia claiming to be the paragons of clean politics and champions of rights. If you do not do so directly you allow yourself to be used willingly as part of a wider and highly politicised orchestrated campaign designed to destablise the country. You do so in a highly charged and volatile environment as Malaysia is today through distortions of fact and selective publication of half truths. You then deny others the right to respond or to correct your distortions and half truths. If that’s the rule you wish to play by you must then live the consequences of your mischief and expect the consequences in kind.

    Cyberspace is not the sole preserve of the The Nut Graph’s and their ilk of this world. It is a two way street. The Nut Graph is not immune to attack on a multitude of vandalistic equally destructive measures that can be applied to them in cyberspace in response to their distortions and misrepresentations of others in their willful and deliberate attempts to destroy, and defame others they disagree with simply to cover the truth.

    Censorship is but one of these methods. And you have chosen it as your weapon of attack on me in this case. It is strange that unsubstantiated claims and insults against many an individual and institution have been allowed to go uncensored with impunity and tacit encouragement complete with the invectives that follow in the letters column. Be that as it may, we all havee to live with the consequences of our cowardice and false sense of security behind the button of censorship.

    In my own sweet way and in my own sweet time. No situation remains permanent.

    Gopal Raj Kumar

  23. pl says:

    Perhaps Gopal Raj Kumar can post a summary of his comments here and provide a link to his full commentary at his blog, if any, at the end of his comments in The Nut Graph so that the readers can click on the link and go read if they’re interested. (And TNG’s small team don’t have to constantly stretch their limited time and resources editing his comments, win-win situation).

    Personally, I don’t like reading his comments too, which are long-winded and almost always sidetracked from the original discussion. (I prefer straight-to-point commentators like Kamal and siew eng.) Anyway, to each her/his own. Just a suggestion.

    *off to write protest letter to the Sarawak CM & DCM though the effort may be in vain*

  24. KW Mak says:

    I think Gopal Raj Kumar needs to set up his own newspaper or news website. That is perhaps the best way for him to ensure his views do not get censored, since he will be the one calling the shots.

    Then there won’t be any more repetitious arguments as to whether his views were distorted / edited / censored. And if his media outfit does well, then there really was something to his comments after all!

    I now apologise for derailing the comments section with this observation. You may now return to your regular comments / arguments between irate individual and news organisation.


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