When will we start treating our fellow Malaysians, nay, our fellow human beings as human beings?
“Juni visited her social worker for the first time when she was seven months into her pregnancy,” a lawyer friend told me.
“She had just seen a doctor. Her doctor sent her to the social worker because Juni had no birth certificate, no identity card. Her father, Seman, had an IC, but her mother, Flora, didn’t. Flora had been born far from the town, and she’d never been to the Registration Department.
“Flora and Juni went to the social worker’s office, hoping they’d receive help to have their ICs done. The social worker, Ana, asked her to fill in some forms and gave them a small amount of money to help with the fare on the ‘van sapu’ (illegal taxis) to get home, and sent her away,” the lawyer explained.
He went on, “Juni had to keep going to hospital, because she’d suffered from epilepsy since she was a small child. She needed medicines to prevent seizures. She was a slow learner too, and had never finished primary school. She was 19, the oldest of seven siblings. She helped her mother around in their small home.
“Each trip was a burden on the family. Seman was a farmer, Flora a housewife. They had to pay RM30 for a taxi to take them from their village to the nearest town, then another RM10 for the ‘van sapu’ to get to the big town.
“Seman, an Iban from the Rejang basin, met Flora during his ‘bejalai’ – a rite of coming of age of young men. After they were married, Seman moved to Flora’s village. They’d been happy enough, though they were poor. But when Juni became pregnant, it came as a shock to them.
“Juni was a thin, healthy girl. She didn’t say much, but smiled nervously. She did not understand what was happening to her body. She was raped by an old man in her village called Jagu. Flora and Seman both said Jagu had even admitted to the crime, in public,” the lawyer said.
“Flora told the social worker Jagu had raped another girl in the village 20 years ago, a girl who couldn’t talk or hear. The girl has grown up now and has children of her own.’
Her fear of reprisal
The lawyer shook his head slowly and continued, “I asked Flora and Seman why they hadn’t made a police report. They replied they were afraid that the police would make trouble for Flora, because she had no IC.
“They thought the police might arrest her for being an illegal Indonesian immigrant. I tried to assure them they were safe, because Flora’s father had an IC, and there was plenty of proof both Flora and Juni had been born in Sarawak.
“Seman then explained, ‘The old man Jagu has a big family in the village. His family threatened us and the younger children. Jagu’s family was angry when we brought Juni to hospital. I did not dare report the rape, even though Jagu left the village a few months ago.”
“I asked Seman,” recalled the lawyer, “whether the ‘tuai rumah,’ the headman, had defended Juni. Seman said the tuai rumah was weak. Seman said, ‘There was a village meeting held, and penalties were given out, but the meeting was run by Jagu’s family. They fined Jagu RM200 for his crime. But at the same time, they fined Juni RM200 ringgit too! We had to pay as well.’
“I was furious,” the lawyer frowned. “The social worker, Ana, seemed satisfied that the matter had been settled by ‘adat’ or customary law. She didn’t encourage them to make a police report. She didn’t even help them with ‘tambang’ (taxi fare) to come back to see her for help with the ICs.
“I called Juni’s doctor, Dr Onn, and asked why a report hadn’t been lodged. The doctor said Seman and Flora had refused because of fear of reprisal from Jagu’s family.
“Dr Onn even told me he too, like Flora and Seman, had little faith in investigations,” the lawyer explained.
“The doctor described how he had cared for a Malay teenager, Nur. Nur had come to hospital to have an examination, and to lodge a report of rape. Dr Onn said two policemen offered to send Nur home from hospital after she had made the rape report.
“But Nur later told Dr Onn that, instead of taking her home, the policemen sexually abused her, and then left her far from home.
“Dr Onn relayed this information to the investigating officer in charge of Nur’s rape report, but the doctor was never called to assist in the investigation. I told the doctor he should have reported this to the police commissioner. But he did not take it any further.”
The lawyer sighed, “I talked to Matthew, another social worker at the hospital – a better social worker. Matthew promised to help with Juni’s and Flora’s applications for ICs. He said he’d help with ‘tambang’ for them to visit the clinic and go home again. Matthew also said he’d arrange for a letter to say Juni does not need to pay hospital fees.
“Before Matthew promised to help waive the hospital fees,” the lawyer explained, “each time Juni went to hospital, the staff forced Seman to pay RM60. The nurses and counter clerks argued Juni had no IC and had to pay foreigner’s rates.
“I suppose it didn’t help that she had ‘unmarried mother’ written on her clinic card. Most hospital staff wouldn’t have known she had been raped, and wouldn’t have asked. In their eyes, she must have looked like their stereotype of a loose Indonesian woman.”
“The irony is, Juni’s a Sarawak citizen. Her father has an IC, and their tuai rumah can vouch that Juni and her mother were born in Sarawak. It’s set out clearly in the constitution. Anyone born in Malaysia, with at least one parent being a Malaysian citizen, is automatically a citizen too.
“Even poor kampung Ibans are citizens, aren’t they?” he asked bitterly.
Hope for a new beginning
The lawyer gave a thin smile.
“All the institutions they turned to for help had let them down. The police inspired fear in them. Their tuai rumah did nothing. The hospital made them pay for Juni’s care, even though she’s a citizen, even though she was pregnant because she had been raped. Her social worker, Ana, ignored their appeals for help.
“All the arguments I put forward to encourage Flora and Seman to make a police report, arguments for protecting other young girls from the old man Jagu, have come to nothing – so far,” he said softly.
“I’m still trying to persuade them to go to the police,” the lawyer said. “I’ve offered to find them a new home, in a new village. My law firm has fought for Native Customary Rights for many years. We’ve helped many villages all over Sarawak defend their communal land rights, when they were threatened by logging or plantation companies.
“These communities are helpful. They’d be willing to provide some land for Flora, Seman and their children to make a fresh start, away from Jagu’s family. Perhaps then, when the family feels safe, and Flora and Juni have ICs, they’ll make a report.
“Juni gave birth two weeks ago,” he said. “She and the baby are both healthy. Juni’s parents are looking after the baby. They didn’t have to pay the hospital fees, thanks to the letter from Matthew, the social worker.
“Juni may be poor and uneducated, but she’s someone’s daughter, someone’s sister. Rape can’t just be hidden out of sight,” he said.
“A new home, a supportive community, may make all the difference to this family,” he concluded. “When Juni and Flora get the ICs they’ve been deprived of, they can hope for a better future.”
KERUAH USIT is a human rights activist – anak Sarawak, bangsa Malaysia. His ‘The Antidote’ column, which appears in Malaysiakini every Wednesday, is an attempt to allow the voices of marginalised people to be heard all over Malaysia.
The names of people in this article have been changed. Any encouragement for the lawyer’s efforts to relocate Juni’s family can be conveyed via Keruah_usit@yahoo.com.