Monday October 6, 2008, The Star
By HILARY CHIEW
PETALING JAYA: School was supposed to be a way for the community to improve their socio-economic situation.
However, Penan girls hitching rides to school and back have now found themselves easy victims of sexual abuse by logging company workers.
Interviews conducted in settlements in the Middle Baram area in northern Sarawak, revealed that several students had become victims of rapes by logging workers.
The students are boarders in two secondary schools in the area and only go back to their settlements during the school holidays.
Village leaders have previously appealed to timber camp managers to provide transportation for the students so that their journeys can be cut down to several hours from up to a week if done on foot.
Last year, a 16-year-old student from Long Kawi, a settlement in the Middle Baram, became pregnant after being raped while returning to her boarding school. She gave birth recently.
Relating the incident, she said she was hitching a ride with a logging company vehicle back to her school SMK Long Lama.
When the driver reached the logging camp, he refused to continue driving although the school was not much further.
She alleged that she was dragged to some bushes behind the camp and raped by a man who she believed had been drinking.
A student from the other secondary school with boarding facilities in Long San said she knew of cases of female students being driven to logging camps when taking transportation provided by companies.
Long Belok settlement headman Alah Beling believed the known cases could just be the tip of the iceberg.
Earlier reports quoted Sarawak Police Commissioner Datuk Mohmad Salleh as saying that police were prepared to launch immediate investigations into the allegations of sexual abuse against Penan girls by logging workers.
Women, Family and Community Develop-ment Minister Datuk Dr Ng Yen Yen and the Human Rights Commission have said that the complaints would be investigated.
Allegations of sexual abuse against Penan girls came to light after it was exposed last month by local and foreign non-governmental organisations.