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Anti-sexual violence bill offers hope to Indonesian women

Many facing abuse may soon get the legal protection they desperately need

Anti-sexual violence bill offers hope to Indonesian women

An Indonesian policeman brings a masked suspect in the gang rape and murder of a 14-year old girl for a meeting with Indonesian Minister of Women Empowerment and Children Protection Yohana Yembise in Curup, Bengkulu on May 5, 2016. Indonesian activists called for the government to urgently strengthen laws against sexual violence after the attack. (Photo by AFP)

The young woman looked down at the pregnancy test and cried, it was December 2015 and Christmas Day was approaching but, for this 21-year-old Protestant, the news was not a gift.

Silvia (not her real name) had to tell her boyfriend of five years and she knew he would react badly.

Indonesia is preparing an anti-sexual violence law that would save women like Silvia from the dread and stigma associated with unexpected pregnancies. If that law had been in place, Silvia would have had legal protection if her boyfriend disowned his child.

Her fears were realized when she finally plucked up the courage to tell him. "We knew it was him. Yet, he asked me to abort my baby. I refused," she told ucanews.com.

In February, accompanied by her family, she met with his family to ask him to take responsibility. Instead, Silvia received two copies of a crime report saying that she had brought disgrace on the family; the words on the documents swam before her eyes and she felt faint.

"I was never summoned by local police though. It was a bluff," she said.

Undeterred, she sought legal help. "It was difficult. My case couldn’t be brought to court since there was no legal basis," she added.

Knocked back again all she could do was turn to her faith in God. "I surrendered it all to Him. I believed someday God would reveal the truth," she said.

In July, she gave birth to a baby girl. She works hard to support her child.

"I hope legislators will soon legalize the anti-sexual violence bill. I would mean that, if a girl faces a problem like me, her case could be brought to court," said Silvia.

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The National Commission on Violence against Women first started work on the bill by conducting research on sexual violence against women in 2012. An academic paper was written two years later and drafting of the bill began in 2015.

The commission recorded 321,752 cases of violence against women in 2015, up from 293,220 cases in 2014. These cases were sexual in nature.


Filling the gap   

"For the last 10 years, at least 35 women have faced sexual violence every day of every year. Or three women have faced sexual violence every two hours," said the commission’s chairwoman, Azriana Manalu.

The research identified 15 forms of sexual violence against women. Initially, the bill listed all those forms. But the commission whittled down to nine so as to make it more compact.

These forms are sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, forced contraception, forced abortion, rape, forced marriage, forced prostitution, sexual slavery and sexual torture. 

Violence in relationships is included under the definition of sexual exploitation.

"Not every form we found could be dealt with by the law," Azriana said, mentioning that the traditional practice of female circumcision could be included under the definition of sexual violence but, given how entrenched it is in local culture, it had to be left out.

"We have a problem with our regulations and victims of sexual violence can’t seek justice. Police and law enforcement officers cannot find the relevant legislation to develop their investigations," she said.

Indonesia’s criminal code was inherited from the Dutch colonial era and has a very narrow definition of rape and sexual harassment. Even recent laws like the 2004 Domestic Violence Eradication Law and the 2007 Anti-Human Trafficking Law have the same issue.

The new bill, all 16 chapters and 184 articles of it, aims to remedy this problem by providing legal certainty and protection for women who are abused.


A special team 

Holy Spirit Sister Eustochia Monika Nata, coordinator of the Women’s Division at the Volunteer Team for Humanity in Flores, regarded the bill as something special.

"The bill has detailed articles covering victims’ rights and restitution as well as perpetrators’ punishment and rehabilitation," she said.

Her group, based in the Sikka district of East Nusa Tenggara province, has been the commission’s partner since 2001. They deal with at least 50 cases of sexual violence annually.

"Some cases can be completely dealt with and some cannot. For example, incest. Police refuse to handle this case if the victim doesn’t get pregnant," Sister Nata added.

In June, the bill was included in this year’s national legislation program. And the House of Representatives’ have promised to push for immediate deliberations.

"We hope a special team will be formed soon," said Fahrurrozi, from the Jakarta-based Service Providers Forum which has 115 member institutions from 33 provinces.

According to Fahrurrozi, the special team will thoroughly discuss the bill since an effort in order to comprehensively eliminate the problem.

"The bill must be legalized immediately. Women and children who are victims of sexual violence are in dire need of such a law," he added.


The final hurdle

Rieke Diah Pitaloka, a member of the legislation body, feels the urgency.

It’s imperative that a specialist law on sexual violence is enacted as soon as possible, she told Kompas.com.

"We need a law which can define sexual violence broadly and deal with victims and their families as well as perpetrators," she added.

Meanwhile, Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Minister Yohana Yembise said that the bill was desperately needed to tackle the growing number of cases of sexual violence.

"The number of sexual violence cases has continued to increase and it should be the House’s main concern," the The Jakarta Post quoted her as saying.

Even so, Silvia is still worried the bill will fail at the final hurdle. "If many women face problems like me, where is the justice? If they are strong enough, that would be okay. But if not? They could kill themselves. That is the worst thing," she said.

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