Malaysia welfare home criticised for keeping mentally disabled in cage-like cubicles

Residents at the Handicapped Children’s Welfare Home getting ready for bedtime in their "special cubicles".
Residents at the Handicapped Children’s Welfare Home getting ready for bedtime in their "special cubicles". PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

BATU GAJAH, Perak (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - A welfare home here is keeping mentally disabled children locked in "cages" for fear that they may hurt one another.

The Welfare Department says it is for the children's safety and that of the other children in the home.

However, photographs of the children in the concrete "cages" with solid metal doors have gone viral and the home has come under attack.

The home's chairman said the actual situation was not what people saw in the photographs.

Handicapped Children's Welfare Home Chairman R. Sivalingam said the home had been unfairly accused of mistreatment. He said of the 47 residents, 10 were mentally challenged and were suffering from extreme mental conditions.

Mr Sivalingam said the 10 were under the supervision of the staff during the day and were allowed to roam around the home's compound. During bedtime, they were confined to "special cubicles" and provided with mattresses and pillows.

"If we allow them to sleep in the hall, or in the rooms like the rest, they will hurt one another. It is for their own safety and the safety of the other (residents) that we need them to sleep in the cubicles.

"If we don't do this, they will bite one another, hurt the eyes of the other residents, or go naked. They would even defecate and throw faeces at the rest," he told reporters at the home on Monday (Oct 24).

Mr Sivalingam was commenting on photographs that have gone viral showing several residents caged up.

The person who took the photographs claimed she was visiting her aunt, a resident at the home, when she stumbled upon the "cages".

Mr Sivalingam said the residents in the home, set up some 45 years ago, were aged between 13 and 60, and some had been in the home since young.

He said the special cubicles were built in 2006, because before he took over as the chairman, those with severe mental conditions were tied with ropes to prevent injuries.

"I felt that was the wrong way to treat them. Therefore, the idea to build the special cubicles came about.

"Most of them are orphans, and were referred to us by the Community Welfare Department, outsiders who spotted them on the streets or by hospitals after they are discharged, often after being involved in accidents," he added.

Kinta District Community Welfare Department officer Noor Hanizah Zulkafli said the home was registered with the department.

She said some of the residents were placed in the cubicles because they were aggressive.

"It is for their own safety, and the safety of the rest," she added.

State Community Welfare Committee chairman Datuk Rusnah Kassim said the permit for the home was renewed by the state Community Welfare Department on Sept 21 for another five years.

She said if the operator failed to fulfil the Standard Operating Procedure, the permit would not have been renewed.