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One in every two Orang Asli under poverty line

Patrick Lee
| April 20, 2011

Even with several hundred million ringgit allocated to them, the indigenous
people continue to live below the poverty line.

PETALING JAYA: Despite being of Bumiputera status, Malaysias indigenous people

continue to live in a state of neglect and despair, according to the 2010 US State
Department Human Rights Report (Malaysia).
The report said that although indigenous tribes were granted constitutional rights, these
did not necessarily follow into practice.
Indigenous people in peninsular Malaysia had very little ability to participate in decisions
that affected them. The government did not effectively protect indigenous persons civil
and political rights, the report said.
Quoting the 10th Economic Malaysia Plan (RMK-10), the report added that nearly half of
the 30,000 Orang Asli households (or 150,000 people) were living below the poverty line.
This is despite an allocation of about RM377 million for the Orang Asli during the Ninth
Economic Malaysia Plan.
Of these, about 5,700 households (19%) were considered to be hardcore poor, the
report said.
However, the report stressed that the numbers may have been under-reported as the
RMK-10 only considered Orang Asli living in villages and not those in the rainforest.
Not represented by Orang Asli
There were also less instances of school dropouts among the Orang Asli, with a primary
school dropout rate of 20% in 2010, compared with 30% in 2008.

Secondary school students were also less known to drop out of school, although the
number was still very significant. The rate here was 30% in 2010, compared with 50% in
High school fees, limitations of scholarship and less specific allocations are the reasons
that contribute in the school dropout of indigenous children. The quota of scholarship
programme is being cut down and because of that, only several children from the
capable family will be selected.
The US-based report also looked into the under-representation of Orang Asli in
government-affiliated agencies.
It said that only one Orang Asli held a managerial position within the Department of
Orang Asli Development (JKOA, formerly the Department of Orang Asli Affairs).
The report added that only five Orang Asli out of 17 members sat on the governmentsponsored Orang Asli National Advisory Council.

Land grabbed from the Asli

Another major issue that the Orang Asli faced was the loss of their land at the hands of
the government.
The report said that although the Orang Asli were allowed to live on their land as
tenants at-will according to the Aboriginal Peoples Act, they were not given land rights.
This led to a decrease in the total area of Orang Asli reserve land, which was apparently
re-zoned for development. These encroachments sometimes led to confrontations with
private companies.
Although the Orang Asli were given the authority to reside on the land, these rights were
often undocumented. This led to confrontations between the Orang Asli and logging
companies, the report said.
It added that notices in land-related laws (including purchase and condemnation) did not
need to go beyond the casual notice in the newspaper.
Even these notices were not available to the Orang Asli.
In past years this deprived some indigenous persons of their traditional lands with little
or no legal recourse, the report said, although native customary titles were recognised
by the Federal Court in 2007.
Penans also affected
Like their peninsular counterparts, the Penans of Sarawak also faced a series of
frustrating land issues.
Although having native customary rights (NCR), Penan land (and other indigenous
groups) was allegedly often trampled upon by the state government and private
Indigenous rights groups alleged that Chief Minister Taib Mahmud leased Penan and
other tribes NCR land to logging companies and land developers in exchange for
political favours and money, the report said.
Angry with the state, the Penan often came to blows with the government, forming
blockades that prevented loggers from entering their land.
The report said that the state government then agreed to lift the Penan out of their
economic troubles, including the provision of farmland, medical facilities and other basic
However, it is not clear if these promises have been granted. FMT previously reported
that more than half of the 16,000 Penans do not have access to MyKads.
The report also looked into the Penan sexual abuse cases, where timber company
workers were alleged to have raped and molested several Penan women and girls.
Even with a public outcry and ministerial urgings, no noticeable action against the errant
workers has been taken.