(New York Times) - Human rights advocates have raised concerns that thousands of indigenous children in Malaysia are not attending school, which they say exposes them to greater risk of living in poverty in adulthood.
A report released last week by the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, a government agency, showed that 7,000 indigenous children aged 5 to 18 who live on the Malaysian Peninsula were not attending school in 2007, based on government figures.
Among those aged 7 to 12, the number not attending school rose to more than 2,700 in 2010, up from 1,962 in 2007.
The commission was unable to obtain more recent figures for other age groups but said the overall number of indigenous children not in school could have increased because of population growth.
Muhammad Sha’ani Abdullah, a human rights commissioner, said many indigenous people on the Malaysian Peninsula, called orang asli in Malay, lived in remote areas.
“Based on our observations and our visits to the orang asli villages, still there are issues of no schools in the villages or the schools are very far away,” he said by telephone.
While the report focused only on the Malaysian Peninsula, some rights advocates say the number of indigenous children not attending school is likely to be higher in Borneo Island states like Sabah and Sarawak, which are home to the majority of the indigenous population.
In Malaysia, there are about four million indigenous people from a total population of 28 million, according to the Center for Orang Asli Concerns, a private group. About 190,000 indigenous people live on the Malaysian Peninsula.
The commission’s report, based on interviews with students, parents and teachers, found that the distance to the closest school was a major concern.
Colin Nicholas, coordinator of the Center for Orang Asli Concerns, cited as an example two indigenous villages in Pahang State, where the nearest school is 30 kilometers, or 20 miles, away.
“The kids there don’t go to school,” he said. “They say it’s too far and they don’t have transport.”
While there was a student hostel at the school, many parents did not want to leave their young children there.
Mr. Nicholas added that some students felt discriminated against by teachers and parents worried about their safety.
Mr. Sha’ani said that while the government was supposed to provide students with transport to schools, often the vehicles did not show up and could not reach the children in bad weather, raising questions over how often the children attended.