For a voice the Orang Asli can call their own

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For a people widely acknowledged to be the earliest inhabitants of Malaysia, the Orang Asli have been greatly shortchanged by historical circumstance.

Based on official statistics, 80.8 percent of the Orang Asli were living below the poverty line as late as 1997.

At least 50 percent of their students have dropped out of primary school annually for the past 30 years.

And despite their economic and spiritual dependence on land, current laws on Orang Asli affairs do not give them legal right of ownership to ancestral lands.

Another telling fact is that, 45 years after Independence, the Orang Asli community remains unrepresented by its own leaders. A single Orang Asli has been appointed to the upper house of Parliament the senator being chosen by the government-of-the-day, not by the community.

Over the past decade, though, moves by the Orang Asli to claim their rights have gradually been gaining momentum.

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