|Penan men stand by a forest blockade. © Andy Rain/Nick Rain/Survival|
The Malaysian government has released a report confirming that Penan women and girls as young as ten have been raped and sexually abused by logging company workers in Sarawak.
The report confirms the allegations made last year that Penan women were raped by loggers, despite high-level denials by government officials at the time of the revelations.
In October last year, when faced with the claims, the Chief Minister of Sarawak Abdul Taib Mahmud said they were ‘lies’ and an attempt at ‘sabotage’. Even after the government report was made public, Sarawak’s Deputy Chief Minister Alfred Jabu, who is in charge of Penan affairs, questioned its credibility. In the Borneo Post newspaper he was quoted as saying, ‘There may be a report, but you must remember that negative NGOs were strongly behind it.’
The report was released last week, almost a year after allegations were made in the media about the rape of Penan girls. A government team visited a number of Penan communities last year to investigate the claims. The team found that, ‘allegations of sexual abuse of Penan girls and women by outsiders dealing with the Penan, including logging company workers and traders, are certainly true.’
Penan children are often dependent on the logging companies for transportation to and from school. Penan girls told the investigation team that it was common for logging camp workers to sexually abuse them while taking them to or from school.
According to the report, one girl told the government team that she was raped when she rode in a logging truck on her way to school. Another said she had two children after being raped by a worker who repeatedly broke into her room.
The publication of the report comes as hundreds of Penan are blocking roads in protest against logging and plantations on their land. The destruction of their forest robs the hunter-gatherer Penan of the animals and plants they eat and pollutes the rivers they fish in. Without the forest, many Penan have difficulty feeding their families.