Ensuring education and wellbeing for children in plantation areas
By Jude Toyat
The state government holds firm to the existing guidelines for the establishment and registration of Community Learning Centres (CLC) for children of Indonesian plantation workers throughout Sarawak.
Minister of Welfare, Women and Family Development Datuk Fatimah Abdullah said this following allegations by the opposition that recently slammed the establishment of the CLC by saying that it threatened national security.
“I would like to emphasise that safety is of the utmost priority in the guidelines for the establishment and registration of the CLC and we strongly understand the concerns of our society.
“To establish and register the CLC, we need to emphasise on several matters including the rules and procedures of the agencies involved in the two countries (Indonesia and Malaysia) in terms of safety, health, curriculum, as well as its teaching staffs.
“We understand that the children are still small but they also have the rights to be educated, hence the establishment of the CLC that caters to children of those working in the plantation areas, all below 12 years old.
“Apart from health, we are also taking great measures concerning the safety of children who study at CLC. We are also taking into serious consideration in ensuring that our country is not being threatened in any possible situation,” she said in a press conference held in conjunction with a courtesy call made by the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) representatives at her office on March 30.
Upon reaching the age of 12, the children will be taken back to their hometown to continue their secondary education, Fatimah added.
To date, a total of seven CLC were established in farming areas in Miri, followed by five in Bintulu and one in Serian.
Fatimah also mentioned that the establishment of CLC were the initiative of several plantation companies in the 20s and to date there is a total of 13 CLCs throughout Sarawak, seven in Miri, five in Bintulu, and one in Serian.
Meanwhile, on aspect of health, Fatimah added that even though there had been no news of any spread of tuberculosis, the state government was being vigilant and would ensure that medical examinations would be held in several places with CLC.
“Therefore, we have worked with the Health Department, Immigration Department, Fire and Rescue Department, the Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM), Education Department and Ministry of Education for this purpose and ensure that the CLCs are always on its best condition,” she added.
During the courtesy call, Fatimah also discussed several matters concerning Unicef and the state government.
Among them were marriage among children, teenage pregnancies, the Indigenous Peoples Conference, children profiling, child poverty, and education for children with special needs.
Fatimah said that the Indigenous Peoples Conference to be held on September 22 will have more than 100 local and international experts to talk about their experiences and language curriculum that was implemented in their respective countries.
The conference will be focusing on native pre-school children in Sarawak in the education of their native language.
According to Fatimah, Sarawak currently has two schools that have been implementing a teaching curriculum that emphasizes on the usage of native language to teach the students.
“The native languages, namely Bidayuh and Kelabit are being taught in nurseries and kindergartens in Kampung Bunuk here and Taska Tawaq Raut in Bario. The curriculum books used to teach these students were created by the local communities using their own native languages.
“It is being implemented due to the fear of losing their native language that will become extinct if they are not being used as spoken languages. This is mainly caused by intermarriage with other races. In these schools, the students are being taught and emphasised on their traditions and cultures in their daily lives at a young age,” she added.
However, the nurseries also use Permata, a curriculum module that has been used in other nurseries across Sarawak.
Meanwhile, Unicef representative to Malaysia Marianne Clark-Hattingh said that they were keen to investigate domestic abuse against children.
“The main focus for Unicef is children who live in the plantation areas, including children from neighbouring country, Indonesia throughout the state apart from the indigenous children.
“Although they live in places that are very far with no proper access to communication, these children are entitled to their basic right to education. We want to do research on this group to give us a clearer picture of what they went through in their lives and the direction of what we are leading them,” she said.
Marianne added that sometimes due to poverty, the children will become victims of human trafficking and child labour or trained to become criminals.
Malaysia has many programmes to fight for various children rights, including the community-based rehabilitation (CBR) Matrix which benefits children in various aspects including health, education, social lives and empowerment.
Unicef also looks at the cases of teenage pregnancies that are also a problem to be researched so that these children’s rights will be fought in order to achieve a developed nation by 2020.