QUICK TAKE: The National Service (NS), or Program Latihan Khidmat Negara (PLKN) was formed to instill patriotism among our youth. It was ostensibly designed to build character, encourage racial integration, make children more disciplined and morally aware, and foster the spirit of volunteering.
But are all these lofty ideals a farce? Most children treat the NS as a boot-camp. What they learn is forgotten within days of finishing their NS stint. Below, are 10 reasons to validate the permanent closure of the NS.
First. Three months is inadequate for character building and long-term racial interaction. This assimilation and bonding cannot be achieved by force, in a controlled, camp environment. What percentage of participants will apply what they learnt, into real life, once training is over?
Second. The quality of the food is poor. Several incidents of serious food-poisoning, in many of the camps, have occurred. In 2008, 155 trainees at the Teluk Rubiah camp in Lumut fell ill after eating contaminated, badly prepared, or inadequately stored food. As the children are often hungry, there is a brisk trade in snacks, among the trainees.
Third. NS staff have been accused of gross negligence, and trainees who fall seriously ill did not receive immediate medical attention.
In 2010, Norhashimah Wahid was forced to continue with her modules, despite having breathing difficulties, whilst undergoing “commando-style” training at the Jugra camp, in Banting. She lost consciousness and was sent to hospital, but the camp failed to notify her family. After five days in intensive care, she died of severe pneumonia and multiple organ failure.
Fourth. There is a poor safety record and no code of conduct, for the staff of many of the NS camps. Four years ago, at the Sungai Bakap camp in Penang, Basant Singh awoke, to find that 50 cm of his hair had been cut, whilst he was asleep.
Girls have been raped by staff, fights break out because of lack of supervision, accidents are not dealt with immediately, there are thefts of personal items and the proper precautions when swimming are not adhered to.
Fifth. Trainees are required to have a medical check-up before starting the programme, but this is not strictly enforced, with the result that pregnant girls have ended-up giving birth in camp.
Sixth. Bullying is common in the camps, with constant fights breaking out among the trainees. More serious, are the allegations of bullying of the trainees, by the camp commandants and their officers.
Seventh. Every provision is made to accommodate the religious food requirements of Muslim trainees, but allegedly, very little provision is made for Buddhist and Hindu trainees.
Eighth. The divisive and intolerant politics of the Malaysian government and its religious bodies are reflected in the camps. In 2010, trainees from Kelantan and Kedah, who were sent to perform their NS in Sarawak, had difficulty assimilating with other racial groups.
Ninth. Theft of personal belongings is common in the camps. Accusations are rife and it is alleged that in the days before the end of the NS stint, trainees wreak their vengeance on others.
Tenth. Although attendance of the NS camp is supposedly compulsory for those selected, the children of the well connected, appear to be exempt. Some claim to have a music recordings or filming contracts, to fulfill, others will find similar pressing engagements.
Our children heed the call of duty, but their trust is not being reciprocated.