The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) is urging Malaysian authorities to stop the practice of forcing male students, possibly as young as 12 years of age, into "curative" programs for allegedly failing to conform to the stereotypical expectations of masculinity. The most recent camp in Besut, Trengganu on the northeast coast of Malaysia was ordered by the Terengganu Education Department.
IGLHRC has written to the Minister of Women, Family and Community Development to commend her for publicly calling for the Besut Camp to be abolished. We are urging her Ministry as well as the Ministries of Education and Higher Education to take additional steps to stop these curative camps.
Below is a copy of the letter to the Minister of Women, Family and Community Development.
Dato Sri Sharizat Abdul Jalil
Minister of Women, Family and Community Development
Level 1-6 Bukit Perdana Government Complex
Jalan Dato’ Onn
50515 Kuala Lumpur
28 April 2011
Dear Dato Sri Sharizat,
RE: Children’s Rights Violated in Discriminatory Camps
The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), a twenty-one year-old organization, is appalled by reports that sixty-six male children were sent to a camp in Besut, Terengganu for allegedly failing to conform to the stereotypical expectations of masculinity. IGLHRC writes to express its appreciation for the public positions that you have taken in calling for Besut Camp to be dismantled and for forced "curative" programs to end.
Because reports received by IGLHRC indicate that this camp is one of at least four of its kind, we additionally write to urge you to take action to ensure that no such camp harmful to youth ever takes place again.
As you are aware, under orders from the Terengganu Education Department, the sixty-six male children said to be of secondary school age or approximately ages 12 to 17 were rounded up by their teachers and sent to a camp from April 17 and released on April 20. In statements to the Malaysian press, Razali Daud, Director of Education for Terengganu, said that the camp’s purpose was, "character-building as part of the department's new Patriotism Integration Programme aimed at improving students' awareness of their duties to the nation."[i] Further comments by him clarified that those students singled out, "happen to display some feminine tendencies."[ii] Yet, Mr. Daud’s earlier remarks to the press shed light on the camp’s punitive and discriminatory intent. He stated, "[w]e understand that some people end up as mak nyah (transvestite) or a homosexual, but we will do our best to limit the number."[iii] He also said that parents and teachers need to look for signs of "the slightest effeminate tendency in their male children from an early age."[iv]
Statements like these from a high-ranking government official are damaging because they single out certain children for discriminatory treatment, which can lead to bullying, mental health conditions, family rejection, and violence. Furthermore, children who feel unsafe in school typically have low graduation rates. By making such comments, Mr. Daud effectively discourages these children from receiving an education. Not only is education a right, but also it is fundamentally linked to other rights; lack of education contributes to unemployment which in turn hinders peoples’ ability to obtain basic food and shelter. Furthermore, the practice of so-called curative therapies for individuals perceived to be homosexual, transsexual, or otherwise not in accordance with conventional gender and sexual norms have both been discredited by reputable medical experts and been shown to damage mental health in their own right. By framing the "curative" camp as a means to promote patriotism, Mr. Daud makes the inaccurate and dangerous allegation that children who are homosexual, transgender and/or are perceived to be so are harmful to Malaysian society. Finally, by equating "femininity" among male children with something negative, Mr. Daud sent a message that reinforces the logic that oppresses women.
Significantly, the Besut Camp is not an isolated incident. While some local press reported that it was the first of its kind, IGLHRC has received credible reports of at least three other "curative" camps. According to Seksualiti Merdeka, a coalition of sexual rights activists and artists, Universiti Putra Malaysia and University Teknologi MARA, both in Selangor, forced their students into similar programs designed to "cure" gender and/or sexual non-conformity. IGLHRC is also aware that a rehabilitation center for mak nyah was to be developed in 2007 in Kuala Terengganu. Given the increased harassment and arrests of transgender people by Malaysia authorities,[vi] the Besut Camp and others of its kind must be seen as part of a dangerous trend of human rights violations that must stop.[vii]
The very existence of such a camp breaches Malaysian law. The Child Act of 2001 states, "Every child is entitled to protection and assistance in all circumstances without regard to distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, social origin or physical, mental or emotional disabilities or any other status."[viii]
Although the children have been released from Besut Camp, the work to ensure their safety and to prevent the harm of other students must be a human rights priority. By speaking out, the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development has taken important steps already. IGLHRC urges the ministry to additionally:
- Prevent the children from Besut Camp from being forced into on-going curative programming, further punishment, or additional harassment moving forward.
- Take steps to ensure that curative camps are never again funded by any branch of government and take steps to prohibit any private entity from mandating students into such curative programs.
- Urge Mr. Daud, Director of Education of Terengganu, to recant his public statements and stop all initiatives designed around curative therapies.
- Campaign to inform education and medical professionals about the discredited and discriminatory notion of curative therapies.
- Initiate dialogue with other ministries about the punitive implications of gender policing in public policy.
- Collaborate with Suahakam, the Malaysian Human Rights Commission, on an investigation into the Besut Camp and other programs that call for curative therapy for Malaysian youth.
- Create an education and awareness campaign for school administrators, teachers and students so they may better promote the principles of "full confidence, dignity and worth of the human person" enshrined in the Child Act of Malaysia.
The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission thanks you again for your leadership on equality and non-discrimination in Malaysia and offers itself as a resource for your work.
Cary Alan Johnson
Y.A.B. Tan Sri Dato' Haji Muhyiddin Bin Mohd. Yassin
Minister Of Education
Fax: 603-8888 8431
Fax : 603-8888 0035
Y.B. Dato' Seri Mohamed Khaled Bin Nordin
Minister Of Higher Education
Fax: 603-8889 3921
Tan Sri Azmi Agam
Ms. Pip Dargan
Deputy Director, Asia Pacific Forum Secretariat
Mr. Charles Radcliffe
Chief, Global Issues Section
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
United Nations (Office DC1-0514), New York, NY 10017
Fax: 212 963 4097
[viii] Laws of Malaysia, Act 611 Child Act 2001, preamble, p. 13