KUALA LUMPUR - The Malaysian government has begun holding seminars aiming to help teachers and parents spot signs of homosexuality in children, underscoring a rise in religious conservatism in the Muslim majority nation.
So far, the Teachers Foundation of Malaysia has organised 10 seminars across the nation. Attendance at the last event on Wednesday reached 1,500 people, a spokesman for the organisation told Reuters.
"It is a multi-religious and multicultural (event), after all, all religions are basically against that type of behaviour," said the official.
The federal government said in March that it is working to curb the "problem" of homosexuality, especially among Muslims who make up over 60 per cent of Malaysia's 29 million people.
According to a handout issued at a recent seminar, signs of homosexuality in boys may include preferences for tight, light coloured clothes and large handbags, local media reported.
For girls, the details were less clear. Girls with lesbian tendencies have no affection for men and like to hang out and sleep in the company of women, the reports said.
Malaysia frowns on oral and gay sex, describing them as against the order of nature. Under civil law, offenders - male and female - can be jailed for up to 20 years, caned or fined.
Actual prosecutions are rare, although former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim has twice been tried for sodomy, in cases he called political conspiracies. He spent six years in jail, but the courts have since cleared him on appeal or dropped charges for lack of evidence.
Official intolerance of gays has been on the rise. Last year, despite widespread criticism, the east coast state of Terengganu set up a camp for "effeminate" boys to show them how to become men.
The latest seminar for the teachers and parents was run by deputy education minister Puad Zarkashi, his office confirmed.
Zarkashi wasn't immediately available for comment but national news agency Bernama quoted him as saying that being able to identify the signs will help contain the spread of the unhealthy lifestyle among the young, especially students.
"Youths are easily influenced by websites and blogs relating to LGBT groups," he was quoted as saying, using the acronym for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
"This can also spread among their friends. We are worried that this happens during schooling time."