Indonesia: Female students may be forced to undergo 'virginity tests'


A plan to make female high school students undergo mandatory virginity tests has been met with outrage from activists, who argue that it discriminates against women and violates their human rights.

Education chief Muhammad Rasyid, of Prabumulih district in south Sumatra put forward the idea, describing it as "an accurate way to protect children from prostitution and free sex". He said he would use the city budget to begin tests early next year if MPs approved the proposal.

"This is for their own good," Rasyid said. "Every woman has the right to virginity … we expect students not to commit negative acts."

The test would require female senior school students aged 16 to 19 to have their hymen examined every year until graduation. Boys, however, would undergo no investigation into whether they had had sex.

The plan has met with some support from local politicians, who said the test would help cut down on "rampant" promiscuity in the district.

"Virginity is sacred, thus it's a disgrace for a [female] student to lose her virginity before getting married," Hasrul Azwar of the Islamist Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) told the Jakarta Post.

The proposal seems to be in response to increasing cases of premarital sex, local website Kompas reported, including the recent arrest of six senior high school students for alleged prostitution.

It is the third plan of its kind in Muslim-majority Indonesia, where similar drafts were proposed in West Java in 2007, and again in Sumatra in 2010, but dropped after a public outcry.

Local and national MPs, activists, rights groups and even the local Islamic advisory council have all denounced Rasyid's plan as potentially denying female students the universal right to education, in addition to targeting girls for an act that may not have even been consensual, such as sexual assault.

"There are female students who may have lost their virginity due to an accident − it is not their fault," South Sumatra legislative council deputy speaker HA Djauhari told local media.

The National Commission for Child Protection also denounced the plan as an attempt to curry "popularity" among religious conservatives, and called the move "excessive".

"Loss of virginity is not merely because of sexual activities," said Arist Merdeka Sirait of the commission. "It could be caused by sports or health problems and many other factors."

Just how the test would be implemented − and what consequences it could incur were it to be passed − is not yet clear, prompting local teachers to question whether those without intact hymens would still be allowed to attend classes.

Indonesia's education and culture minister, Muhammad Nuh, condemned the plan and said the district needed "a wiser way to address the issue of teen sex".

Virginity is a prized possession among many Indonesians, particularly in rural areas, and rapidly changing mores in a population of 240 million can sometimes create tension among the country's more conservative elders and its large, more moderate youth.

Last year saw lawmakers propose a ban on miniskirts because "provocative clothing makes men do things", while in the shariah-law province of Aceh, women have been ordered to sit side-saddle on motorbikes in order to better obscure the "curves of a woman's body".