During a time when the whole country was occupied with BERSIH 4.0, 7 Orang Asli children disappeared into the jungles surrounding Sekolah Kebangsaan Tohoi in Kelantan. 2 of them were found by authorities about a week ago, nearly 50 DAYS after they went missing.
Norieen Yaacob and Mirsudiar Aluj were the 2 who were found alive. As for the other 5, police have found the remains of 4 of them (2 bodies and 2 skeletal remains), while the last of the 7 kids has yet to be found. DNA tests confirmed that one of the skeletal remains belonged to Juvina David, while one of the bodies was that of Ika Ayel, with the tests for the other 2 remains expected to be known this week. The body of Sasa Sobrie, however, has been identified by her parents.
And as we read up on this whole thing, it looked very much like a tragedy that could have been prevented, or even less painful if certain things were done better.
So let’s jump right into it la shall we? 3 things that could have been done to improve the situation involving the 7 Orang Asli kids.
1. Maybe the search and rescue operations could’ve started faster?
As the story goes, all this takes place in a little village by the name of Pos Tohoi, some 60km away from Gua Musang, Kelantan (or 30km according to Google Maps, but basically quite far away from the nearest town). 7 Orang Asli kids were reported to have gone missing from their school, SK Tohoi. This is reported to have happened on Sunday, 23rd August 2015.
Dendi Johari, Chairman of the Kelantan Orang Asli Youth Network told The Star that the whole search and rescue operation consisted of only 104 people for a 400 hectare area of jungle. We did the math (meaning we Googled) and 400 hectares equals to an area of 4km2.
The picture below shows 4km2 of land using Pos Tohoi as the middle point (sorta).
And here is a picture of about the same land size using KL Sentral as the focal point (also sorta).
You’d think that a search and rescue operation that big would start asap, but one of the biggest issues with this whole case is that the search and rescue operations only started 5 DAYS after the kids had gone missing.
“I think the efforts came too late. I believe my children are dead because they do not have the skills to stay this long in the jungle.” – Midah Angah, mother of Nurieen and Haikal Yaacob, as quoted by The Star.
The Rakyat Post then reported that Police were initiating their search efforts on the 26th of August, 3 days after the children went missing. The first place they looked? The houses of the missing children themselves.
“The police came to our villages three days after they went missing and searched our homes. They said we were hiding the children. What kind of notion is that? Never in our history have we ever done such a thing. It was very upsetting.” – Midah Angah, as quoted by The Malaysian Insider.
Another article added that the search operations were then launched on the 28th of August. So these kids were missing for a total of 5 DAYS before authorities started to look for them, much to the dismay of the parents.
However, the IGP, Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar has denied that there was a delay in the search and rescue mission because they started their search and rescue operations right after the school reported the kids missing. But if like that, means the one that was slow to respond was the school itself?
2. Maybe the teachers could have been better trained to handle the students?
Both our IGP and the Jabatan Kemajuan Orang Asing (JAKOA) have denied that they were slow in their response to find the missing kids, and that they’ve been working on the situation the moment they were alerted of it. However, the IGP added that it was SK Tohoi, the school that these 7 kids went to, who lodged a police report late.
But he says that this too isn’t the fault of the school! Why? Because kids run away from the school everyday! And so, our IGP says that when something like this happens, the school usually tries to look for the kids themselves first. And they only lodged a police report when they were unable to find the children this time round.
But what was more shocking was when The Center of Orang Asli Concerns (COAC) official Facebook page posted a note that talked about how conversations with various people (including parents of the children) led them to conclude that initially the 7 Orang Asli kids weren’t lost. In fact, they could have gone back to the school or a nearby village if they wanted to. But why didn’t they go back then? Well, the note mentions that it was because they were scared.
It was initially thought that the 7 kids first ran away to escape being punished for swimming in a nearby river. However, the Center of Orang Asli Concerns, COAC states that the ones who were caught swimming in the river were actually 3 elder siblings of the 7. But when these elder siblings were out swimming, the 7 Orang Asli kids thought that they had gone back home, and so they too left the school.
Long story short, the COAC mentions that the 7 chose not to return out of fear of being punished for running away.
And although Kelantan police chief, Datuk Mazlan Lazim, did not state the reason, he did say that the 2 surviving girls were actually trying to hide from the search and rescue teams. Which can only make one wonder: What the heck did the school do until they so scaredddd??
The Malay Mail Online reported testimonies from parents talking about how the teachers punished the children however they saw fit.
“Sasa even told me she saw some seniors getting slapped across the face, and some were kicked like a football repeatedly.” – Sobrie Latip, father of Sasa Sobrie, one of the 7, as quoted by The Malay Mail Online.
But that is only one of the many problems faced by the children of SK Tohoi. The Malay Mail’s article actually went on to describe the bad state of the school such as students being forced to sleep on the cement floor, classes only being held 2 days a week, and the students being left to themselves when there were no classes going on.
And that actually seems to be a problem in many Orang Asli schools, not just SK Tohoi. Through this, various people have brought up the need to take care of the welfare of all Orang Asli schools in general (examples here, here, here and here).
“Orang Asli children in Malaysia continue to be deprived of access to quality education that is relevant and responsive to their specific cultural context and needs.” – Suhakam acting Chairman Datuk Dr Khaw Lake Tee, as quoted by The Malaysian Insider.
An article on Free Malaysia Today even talked about some cases of teachers punishing their kids in other Orang Asli Schools, like how a 10-year old girl was beaten by 3 male teachers earlier this year.
And if the schools really are as bad as these reports suggest, it could be an indication of the fear that the kids face, to the point that they would rather be out in the jungle.
3. Maybe the authorities could have been more understanding with the parents?
The work of a particular Siti Kasim actually brought to our attention the way the parents of the 7 Orang Asli Kids were being treated, specifically by the Jabatan Kemajuan Orang Asli (JAKOA). In a Facebook post, Siti Kasim highlights that when the 2 surviving girls were found together with the remains of one of the girls, JAKOA proceeded to set up a press conference at the hospital before even informing the parents that the girls had been found.
The video below is an interview with some of the parents in regards to that press conference.
Part 2 here.
Today Online also reported how the parents of the 7 felt they were neglected throughout the whole situation.
“It is our children who have gone missing and we deserve to be informed first and not those not directly concerned.” – Nora Tegeu, mother of Ika Akel, as quoted by Today Online.
The article also reported that the families claimed that they got their updates from other villagers instead of the authorities. If you’re interested, one of the parents even talks about his whole ordeal of the time his daughter went missing to dealing with the authorities 2 weeks later in the video below.
David’s child, Juvina, who is only 7 years old, is the youngest amongst the missing Orang Asli children. Listen to his efforts the moment he heard about his missing child, his frustrations and anxieties. It is so sad listening to them. David hasn’t gone home since day 1. His kampong is about 2 hours on motorbike or 5 hours orang Asli walk. If we walk, it will take maybe 8 hours. His wife and kids are still back in the kampong. She must be very worried and anxious. I would expect the authorities will bring all the families together and have people to look after them. None of these are happening. They have to fend for themselves.The kids were in the care of the school and the school failed and/or neglected their duties towards these children that they are supposed to be looking after. I will tell more of this story from the perspective of these parents and why I feel there are elements of negligence and/or failed in their duty of care from the school.
Posted by Siti Kasim on Thursday, 3 September 2015
In their defence, JAKOA released a statement on their Official Facebook page refuting these claims that the families had been mistreated. In it, they list down their efforts to ensure that the families of the children were well taken care of throughout the ordeal such as providing food, petrol, and JAKOA officers to update them.
But not long after, Siti Kasim, whom some have reported to be lawyer representing the families, responded to JAKOA with a video. In it, she asks the families about the efforts made by JAKOA, to which they denied ever receiving.
So regardless of what JAKOA says, it looks like the parents feel that injustice has been done towards them. And that really is the last thing that anyone would want when their child has been missing for more than a month.
The Orang Asli people don’t seem to be treated very orang-ly at all
Recently The Star reported that the families of the 7 kids would be given donations totalling Rm62,000 by two organisations, BAKTI and PERMATA (both of which are headed by our PM’s wife).
But one wonders just how far that will go towards solving the bigger issues faced by the Orang Asli community.
This whole thing with the 7 missing Orang Asli kids is sounds more like a tragedy that could have been avoided more than anything else. And it seems that there are people at fault, with Lim Kit Siang even going as far as to ask that some of our ministers be held accountable for their indifference towards the whole situation.
“Are the lives of Orang Asli kids less worthy of protection than Malay, Chinese or Indian kids that they do not deserve serious attention from the Cabinet Ministers?” – Lim Kit Siang, as quoted by The Malay Mail Online.
An article by Mariam Mokhtar on Free Malaysia Today also discusses other instances of Orang Asli kids being mistreated in their schools (the same one we mentioned earlier), but what the columnist also goes on to highlight is the plight of the Orang Asli people as a whole.
This sentiment was also echoed by Mustafa K. Anuar, a columnist for The Malay Mail Online.
“It’s shamefully outrageous that the welfare of the original inhabitants of this land did not get the rapt attention and action they deserve by a federal administration whose members are conceivably mostly composed of pendatang origins.” – Mustafa K. Anuar in an article for The Malay Mail Online.
But at the very least, this tragedy has led to some improvements. Rural and Regional Development Minister, Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, recently said that there were plans to install an Orang Asli as the head of JAKOA, and Orang Asli kids would get transport home every 2 weeks. It could have happened earlier, and it could have happened before this whole situation, but at least it is happening.
And that really sums up the irony of it all la. That those whose very name means ‘Original people’, those whose status should provide them the best of rights, would be the ones to get the least rights of all.
But if you’re someone who wants to see that change (like Siti Kasim), why wait? Get in touch with an organisation that works with the Orang Asli people. In fact, throughout writing this story, we actually found a few organisations that you could get in touch with. Here’s a list of them.
- United Sikhs (a UN affiliated NGO that has been doing a lot of the Temiar people)
- Unicef (they have a program aimed at educating Orang Asli children)
- Center for Orang Asli Concerns (an organisation that works towards advancing the cause of the Orang Asli, they’re the ones who published the FB note mentioned earlier)