Malaysia will tighten regulations governing private Islamic schools following allegations of sexual abuse of students at such learning institutions, a deputy minister said Tuesday.
Deputy Islamic Affairs Minister Fuziah Salleh told BenarNews that the government will amend current laws regulating “tahfiz” schools that focused on studies on the Quran in a bid to prevent sexual abuses and protect students.
The move came after the principal of a tahfiz school in the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur was slapped with 11 charges in court earlier this month following a complaint against him by nine male students that he had molested and sodomized them.
The principal was charged under the Sexual Offences Against Children Act, which is aimed specially at protecting those up to 18 years old from sexual crimes.
“The case was investigated and the person has been charged in court on Sept 19 with 11 charges under Section 14 of the Sexual Offences Against Child Act 2017,” police said in a statement at the weekend.
Under the law, offenders could face an imprisonment of up to 20 years and be whipped, reports said.
Mujahid Yusof Rawa, a minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, said the principal was released on bail pending trial.
“I'd like to advise parents who wish to send their kids to religious schools: Make sure that they know the background of the teachers,” Mujahid said. “Some teachers are not even qualified to teach the Quran.”
In March this year, authorities charged a 41-year-old volunteer at a tahfiz school in Kuantan, capital of Pahang state, with sexually assaulting and sodomizing 10 male students.
In April last year, an 11-year-old boy died after his legs were amputated following an alleged beating by an official at a tahfiz school in a case that, according to police, was being investigated as a homicide
Following the latest case, Federal Territories Minister Khalid Samad ordered the closure of all unregistered tahfiz schools within Kuala Lumpur.
“There should be no exceptions made for the tahfiz schools just because they are religious institutions,” Khalid told a news conference. “They should give the best in terms of safety and comfort because they carry the image of a religion.”
Tahfiz schools are not under the federal government’s education ministry, but are regulated by religious councils in states where they are located.
Latest figures on unregistered tahfiz schools were not immediately available. But last year, the government said there were 941 registered tahfiz schools with 9,470 teachers and about 150,000 students.
A stopgap measure
Commenting on Khalid’s statement, Fuziah said that the order to shut down unregistered tahfiz schools in the nation’s capital was a stopgap measure, until parliament approves tighter regulations governing these institutions.
“Currently the schools are under the jurisdiction of the state government, which puts them beyond the reach of the federal government,” Fuziah told BenarNews.
Kuala Lumpur Mufti Zulkifli Mohamad al-Bakri on Tuesday supported calls for a proper registration of the schools.
“The Office of the Federal Territories Mufti has been consistent in our opposition of any form of manipulation, abuse, injustice, and affliction on children,” Zulkifli said in a statement sent to BenarNews.
In September last year, a fire that ripped through the three-story dormitory of an unlicensed Islamic religious school in Kuala Lumpur killed at least 21 children and two teachers, firefighters said. Authorities charged two teenagers with 23 counts of murder for allegedly causing the fire.
The Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah School in Kuala Lumpur has been operating for 16 years without an official permit, officials said, as the government set up a task force to look into the safety of similar schools across the country.