Female high school students in Indonesia’s city of Jember in east Java may have a new hurdle to graduation: a municipal government-imposed “virginity test.” A proposal unveiled last week explicitly aims to bar female high school students who have engaged in premarital sex from receiving the high school diploma they have earned. Boys are exempt from the requirement. The initiative is appalling – but not surprising.
Indonesia's National Police have imposed these abusive and degrading tests on thousands of female applicants since as early as 1965, despite their contravention of National Police principles that recruitment must be both “nondiscriminatory” and “humane.” On November 19, 2014, Indonesia's coordinating minister for politics, law, and security, Tedjo Edhi, told reporters that such tests have long been obligatory for female military recruits as well. In August 2013, HM Rasyid, education chief of Prabumulih district in South Sumatra, reportedly sought to impose mandatory “virginity tests” on female high school students to tackle perceived problems of “premarital sex and prostitution.”
Only after Indonesian civil society organizations attacked Rasyid's proposal as “against human rights” and then-Indonesian Education Minister Mohammad Nuh skewered the idea as “degrading and discriminatory,” did Rasyid back off, insisting that he had been misquoted by domestic media.
The Indonesian government can’t feign ignorance about the abusive nature of such “tests.” The tests have been recognized internationally as violations of the right to non-discrimination and the prohibition against “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” under international human rights treaties that Indonesia has ratified. Indeed, in November 2014, the World Health Organization stated unambiguously that “There is no place for virginity (or 'two-finger') testing; it has no scientific validity.”
The Indonesian government’s tolerance for this violence against women and girls needs to end.
President Joko Widodo should send a loud and unambiguous message forbidding “virginity tests” by local government as well as the Indonesian military, police, and civil service. The authorities should back that up by firing and appropriately prosecuting officials who promote or perpetrate “virginity tests” to ensure that women are protected from such abuse. Until he does, high school girls and their education in Jember will remain in peril.