KUALA TERENGGANU: The Terengganu Education Department's decision to send 66 schoolboys with effeminate tendencies to a boot camp has drawn flak.
Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil said such boot camps should be abolished as these were harmful and not in the children's best interest.
“It is in clear violation of the Child Act,” she said, adding that under the Act, every child was entitled to protection and assistance in all circumstances, regardless of characteristics like race, language and physical, mental or emotional disabilities.
“The experience of being singled out on the basis of perceived characteristics is an extremely traumatising experience, particularly for adolescent teens,” she said.
The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG), which includes the Women's Aid Organisation, Sisters in Islam (SIS), Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower) and Women's Centre for Change, described the action as disturbing and a violation of human rights.
JAG spokesperson and Empower executive director Maria Chin Abdullah said the group was appalled over the development.
“The department's policy to regulate behaviour of students is against the basic tenets of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
“The act of identifying and singling out boys who behave effeminately is highly discriminatory,” she said in a statement, adding that Article 2 of the CRC stated that all children should be accorded equal rights and treatment without exception.
Maria, commenting on a report that the schoolboys were sent to the four-day boot-camp in Besut in order to rehabilitate them, said the boys were being persecuted for the expression of their personalities and identities.
“Ideally, schools are supposed to provide a safe and neutral space for children to develop without fear of recrimination for being themselves.
“Such action insinuates that the department has developed a criterion for normal' behaviour, which is highly questionable.
“If it truly exists, then it should be made public,” she said, adding that the group has demanded that the Education Ministry abolish such camps.
The camp, which started on Monday, includes physical training, motivational activities and spiritual talks.
Terengganu Education Department director Razali Daud maintained that the department had acted correctly.
He stressed that the boot camp was designed to prevent the boys from developing feminine traits which could hamper their future.
“The boys involved were selected from most schools in the state.
“They were carefully vetted before a final selection was made,” he told The Star.
He added that if such tendencies were not curbed at a young age, it would lead to bigger problems for them in the future.
He added among factors that encouraged effeminacy were parents' action in dressing boys in girls clothing as they had really wanted a girl or if the boys were surrounded by female siblings.