MIRI: Women, Family and Com-munity Development Minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil has been instructed to personally look into the plight of the Penan people in Sarawak.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak tasked her with the job following fresh allegations of rape and sexual abuse of Penan women.
Shahrizat made her first visit to Batu Bungan in Ulu Baram yesterday to better understand the issues faced by the community.
“It is not an easy straight-forward situation but I am very keen to reach out to them,” she told The Star upon her return from her fact-finding mission.
“I want to have a feel of the place and to have a chance to meet some of the Penan people face-to-face. I want to know how they feel and see how best the Government can help them. Only then can we propose the next agenda for the National Task Force (NTF) to look specifically into the plight of Penan women and children.”
During a briefing on the eve of her visit, Shahrizat told her team members that it was not right for government agencies and non-governmental organisations to make arm chair decisions from Kuala Lumpur without first consulting the very people who needed their help.
“We have to be very transparent and tell the real story, especially about the plight of Penan women and children in relation to these rape allegations,” she said.
“Rape is rape, there are no two ways about it. Whether it occurred in the deep jungle of Sarawak with Penans or in Jalan Chow Kit in Kuala Lumpur, the perpetrators must be punished.
“The Penan community should know that now they have someone to champion their cause and that is us.”
Shahrizat also urged the police to take the Penan rape allegations seriously.
In a NTF report last year, the incidents of sexual abuse among Penan women and children, lack of access to basic services, including healthcare and education, and problems related to registration of identity cards and birth certificates were highlighted.
There are about 16,000 Penans living in Sarawak with about 300 of them leading nomadic lives.
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