The Education Department and Orang Asli Development Department (Jakoa) yesterday apologised for the incident in which four Orang Asli children were slapped for not reciting an Islamic prayer (doa).

According to SK Bihai parent-teacher's association deputy chairperson Arom Asir, they said sorry during a five-hour meeting at the Dewan Jubli Perak in Kuala Betis, Gua Musang.

"They offered their apologies for what had happened, but the parents are asking for the apology be made in writing and publicised through the media to ensure it does not happen again," he said when contacted.

Arom added that doing so will also hopefully prevent other schools from giving Islamic education to non-Muslim students without their parents' approval.

NONEAccording to him, 150 Orang Asli parents from the SK Bihai, SK Kuala Betis, SK Balar and SK Sri Permai in Pos Pasik and 30 government and NGO representatives attended the meeting.

Among them were Gua Musang district education officer Muhammad Zahari Othman, Gua Musang Jakoa representative Zainal Bakar, Bar Council representative Siti Kassim and a representative from the Education Ministry from Putrajaya.

"SK Bihai's principal was also there, but the teacher who slapped the children was not around.

"The ministry has promised to bring this matter up in their committee," he said.

He added that Section 17 of the Aboriginal Peoples Act 1954 states that no Orang Asli child should be obliged to receive religious teachings, without prior consent from the parents.

Section 17(3) states that any person contravening this faces a fine not exceeding RM500.

"If no punishment is meted out against the teacher, the parents may consider taking legal action," he said.

No willful conversion

According to Human Rights Commissioner Muhammad Sha'ani Abdullah (below), the ministry will wait for a report from the district education department before looking at its next course of action.

Suhakam Commissioner Muhammad Sha'ani b Abdullah 1The ministry also denied that that there was Islamic education at SK Bihai or "willful conversion".

"They claim that the children were encouraged to say a prayer, but not necessarily in the Islamic way. But the families did not agree with this explanation," he said.

He said SK Bihai's principal and other teachers from the school were also present at the meeting.

"We understand that the teacher involved had apologised to the families before the meeting," he said.

Three fathers from Pos Bihai last week made a three-hour journey to Gua Musang to lodge a police report against the teacher who had allegedly slapped their four 12-year-old daughters on Oct 23.

SK Bihai is an exclusively Orang Asli school located in the interior of Gua Musang, close to the Kelantan-Perak border.

The parents claim that they did know that their children were being taught Islamic studies.

On Wednesday, Rural and Regional Minister Shafie Apdal denied that the children were slapped.