PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK/AFP) - The act of throwing a snake into a muddy pit with Malaysian schoolgirls as part of character-building training has sparked condemnation, with the instructors involved set to be hauled up.
A 2 minute 49 second video that went viral on social media showed about 10 primary-school schoolgirls being instructed to wade across a muddy pit.
The terrified students were seen screaming and crying when a snake was thrown into the pit.
Those who tried to get out of the pit to escape the slithering snake were sprayed with water and told to “get in and dive” by male instructors, who were not seen on-screen.
The programme was part of a motivational camp for children aged between 10 and 12 and was conducted by a school and the Malaysian Civil Defence Department. The training was believed to have taken place in Kuala Kangsar, in Malaysia's state of Perak.
National Parent-Teachers Association chairman Mohamad Ali Hassan condemned the act.
"The government should ban this kind of training. Suspend the training centre and put the trainers involved on blacklist.
"The trainers should be sent for rehabilitation, themselves. It is a live snake. Not a toy snake. What were they thinking?" he asked.
Psychiatrist Andrew Mohanraj fears the psychological impact of such shock factor on young teenagers.
"For some participants who are more vulnerable, it can create unnecessary phobia that can have long-term implications," said Dr Andrew, who is also the Malaysian Mental Health Association's deputy president.
He added that there was no scientific evidence to show that such kind of intervention could toughen up an individual.
Perak civil defence department director Mohd Noor Hassan Ashaari Sulaiman told state news agency Bernama the camp’s coordinators had modelled the exercise on training videos found on YouTube.
The use of snakes was not endorsed by the department and was not part of its self-development module, he said, adding that the snakes used were non-poisonous. “This incident cannot be taken lightly,” he was quoted as saying. The department had since suspended four coaches and six assistants pending internal investigations.
Malaysian Civil Defence Force deputy director-general of operations Selamat Dahalan said the incident was being investigated, and a report should be ready within a week.
"We regret that this has happened. This is an individual act and not sanctioned by the department. In fact, it is against our standard operating procedure to have such training for primary-school children," he said.
Civil Defence Department officials will meet with the parents of those involved to explain the situation.
"We hope that they can accept our apologies and explanation on the incident," he told a press conference.
He added that the training modules for primary-school children usually involved demonstrations of what they should do in an emergency, some basic first-aid training and fire awareness.
"The one showed in the video is nothing like what we have conducted before. There should not be any water spraying or making the kids wade in a muddy pit - let alone involving a snake," he said.
The department, he said was in the process of identifying the instructors in the video for action to be taken.
The trainers involved were suspended shortly after the incident came to light on Monday.