File photo of Penan girls of Ba' Puak, upper Baram

News reports said of Penan girls from middle Baram area in northern Sarawak claimed abuse and rape.

Interviews conducted in settlements in the Middle Baram area in northern Sarawak, by The Star revealed that several students had become victims of rapes by logging workers.

The students are boarders in two secondary schools in the area and only go back to their settlements during the school holidays.

Village leaders have previously appealed to timber camp managers to provide transportation for the students so that their journeys can be cut down to several hours from up to a week if done on foot.

Last year, a 16-year-old student from Long Kawi, a settlement in the Middle Baram, became pregnant after being raped while returning to her boarding school. She gave birth recently. Relating the incident, she said she was hitching a ride with a logging company vehicle back to her school SMK Long Lama.

When the driver reached the logging camp, he refused to continue driving although the school was not much further. She alleged that she was dragged to some bushes behind the camp and raped by a man who she believed had been drinking.

A student from the other secondary school with boarding facilities in Long San said she knew of cases of female students being driven to logging camps when taking transportation provided by companies. Long Belok settlement headman Alah Beling believed the known cases could just be the tip of the iceberg.

When the rumors of rape and abuse of Penan girls surfaced last on September 29, Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Alfred Jabu dismissed the claims as baseless.

“Show proof. Tell us which Penan settlement.

“I have not heard of such complaints from the Penan community leaders in my many visits to Ulu Baram,” said Jabu, who is the chairman of the steering committee on the Penans, after launching Ops Sikap XVII at Km19 of the Kuching-Serian Road.