Earlier this year seven children from an indigenous Malaysian tribe ran away from school and got lost in the jungle. Seven weeks later, only two survivors were found. The shocking case raises uncomfortable questions about Malaysia’s treatment of this minority.
A group of children are lying on the floor of a bamboo hut drawing with crayons and felt tips. It is mid-morning and they should be in lessons but the pupils from the villages in this area don’t go to school any more.
At first the nine and 10-year-olds are shy but then they start telling me about one of the teachers in the residential school they used to go to.
“He punished us even if we did nothing wrong,” says one of them. “He made us stand outside in the sun for ages with our desks on our heads and our knees bent, like this.”
As she demonstrates the posture, the others burst into peals of laughter. But one girl in a striped T-shirt is silent and focuses on her picture.
She is 10-year-old Norieen Yaakob. Last summer she and six classmates could no longer bear the harsh discipline at the school, so they fled into the rainforest.
These children are Orang Asli which in Malay means “original people” and they’re the earliest known inhabitants of the Malaysian peninsula. Read more