'Make school, religious department liable for schoolboy’s death'

PETALING JAYA: The private religious school, principal and state religious department must be held accountable for the death of an 11-year-old pupil, who was allegedly beaten by an assistant warden in the school.

Education and rights groups made this call today, urging the government and authorities to hold all the said quarters vicariously responsible, and not only the 29-year-old warden.

Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE) president Datin Noor Azima Abdul Rahim said it was unfortunate that the untimely death of Mohamad Thaqif Amin Mohd Gaddafi has to serve as a lesson to all concerned, with the beating of students appearing to be a norm in some schools.

She urged the government to form a Royal Commission of Inquiry for thorough assessment of the qualifications and skills of the teachers and staff of the school in Kota Tinggi, Johor, as well as its living conditions, safety standards and sources of funding.

"It should then be extended to the state religious department where such private tahfiz schools register with before they begin operation, to know the extent of its scope of responsibility," she told theSun today.

Mohamad Thaqif died on Wednesday afternoon, just days after he had both his legs amputated due to bacterial infection believed to be caused by the beating at the hands of the warden, who is also an ex-convict.

He, and 14 other boys were allegedly physically abused on March 24 with the use of a rubber hose for being noisy in a surau.

Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) has called for a full investigation into the school authorities to identify if anyone might be criminally responsible or civilly liable for their omission to act.

"Suhakam finds it unbelievable that there are no legal procedures or a child protection policy for all schools to check on potential staff before they are allowed to work with children.

"Background checks must be mandatory as this will identify if potential employees have criminal records that may pose a threat of physical or sexual violence against children," its chairman Tan Sri Razali Ismail said.

He also called on the government to reform existing laws to ban corporal punishment in school and all forms of violence against children.

Meanwhile, Association for the Promotion of Human Rights (Proham) treasurer Muhammad Sha'ani Abdullah said action against the school, principal and the relevant district and state level agencies was necessary to avoid recurrences of such cases.

He said there should be better management and supervision of all private religious schools in the country, adding that he had previously brought the matter up to the government, but there had been no further action.

"It seems like after every incident, they (authorities) just forget, there are no follow ups," he told theSun.

Social activist Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir said she agreed to calls for all private religious schools to be shut down, echoing former cabinet minister Tan Sri Zainuddin Maidin's suggestion on Wednesday, to avoid a repeat of the incident.

Zainuddin said condolence messages by the Prime Minister and others alone was not sufficient, adding that the tragedy involving Mohamad Thaqif has exposed the shortcoming of tahfiz schools, requiring the strict intervention of the government.