We are appalled to read the very disturbing New Straits Times report, 'Besut boot camp for 66 sissies' (Apr 18).
First of all, the Educational Department's policy to regulate the behaviour of students is against the basic tenants of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) which Malaysia ratified in 1995. The act of identifying and singling out boys who behave effeminately is highly discriminatory bordering on predatory. Article 2 of the CRC dictates that all children should be accorded equal rights and treatment without exception, the Education Department of Besut is clearly in violation of this.
Secondly, the role of education as entrenched in Article 29, is to nurture the personality and talents of the child and inculcate respect for human rights in preparation for responsible adulthood. However, the boys in this case have been denied and persecuted for the expression of their personalities and identities. Ideally, school is supposed to provide a safe and neutral space for children to develop without fear of recrimination for being themselves.
Thirdly in this case, a state agency is implementing policies which are counter to the freedom of expression of children and individuals. The Besut Department of Education has developed a criterion for 'normal' behaviour of boys which is highly questionable. If there is such a criterion, we demand for it to be made public. We believe the department is perpetuating restrictive gender stereotyping and negating all other behaviours as abnormal. This is definitely detrimental to the development of children who are being subjected to being monitored and further persecuted for any form of deviation from perceived normal behaviour.
Fourthly, we would like to know if the 66 boys had been asked if they wanted to attend the 'boot camp'. If the boys had been consulted, were they agreeable to attending the behaviour corrective programme. In this matter, clearly the opinion of the children had not been consulted. We would also like to know if the parents had been consulted on the purpose of such camps. Children seem to be the last to be consulted in matters that most affect their best interests, that is in violation of Article 2 of the CRC.
Finally, this seems to repress the existence of people who do not conform to accepted sexual orientation and gender identities (SOGI). Corrective boot camps to 'fix' children and individuals must not be condoned because it violates the rights of people who are perceived as 'different'. It should be strongly opposed and challenged as it promotes homophobia and prejudice. We should send a clear message to institutions that they have no business meddling with an individual's identity and personal preference. JAG demands that the Ministry of Education immediately abolish these 'boot camps' which infringe on the human rights of children and individuals. We also urge parents and PTAs to make a firm stand against the 'reprogramming” of our children.
Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) comprises:
Women's Aid Organisation (WAO)
Sisters in Islam (SIS)
Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER)
All Women's Action Society (AWAM)
Women's Centre for Change (WCC)
Perak Women for Women (PWW)
Sabah Women's Action-Resource Group (SAWO)