Sister Maria Yosephina Pahlawati (third left) takes part in a vigil against sexual violence with teenagers in West Manggarai district of Indonesia's East Nusa Tenggara in 2018. (Photo supplied)
A court in Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggara province has sentenced a teacher to 10 years in prison for sexually abusing an eight-year-old student after the girl’s parents sought justice by going to an activist nun for help.
Robertus Hani, a teacher at a public elementary school in West Manggarai district on the Catholic-majority island of Flores, was also ordered to pay a 100 million rupiah (US$6,390) fine for abusing the girl over a two-year period.
The verdict was given on April 20 in a closed-door hearing because of social distancing measures against the Covid-19 pandemic.
Presiding judge Ni Made Dewi Sukrani said Hani "as an educator, should have provided protection and set an example to his students."
Hani was accused of eight acts of sexually abusing his victim in 2018 and 2019 and threatening to kill her if she told anyone about what he had done.
Sister Maria Yosephina Pahlawati, of the Congregation of Servants of the Holy Spirit and director of the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Commission in West Flores, who filed the complaint on behalf of the girl’s parents, welcomed the verdict, saying the sentence was the toughest one handed out in sexual abuse cases she has handled in the region over the past 10 years.
"I think this is progress in terms of protecting women and child victims of violence," she said.
The victim's mother said she wished a harsher sentence could have been imposed. “However, if that is what the judge deemed appropriate, we accept it,” said the mother, who works as a farm laborer and did not want to be identified.
The victim and her mother are being looked after at a shelter run by Sister Yosephina.
Her mother said her daughter is still traumatized by what Hani did to her. "She often feels afraid when she sees people who look like him," she told UCA News.
Before the crime was reported to police in November, Hani’s family had approached the victim's extended family to resolve it through an out-of-court settlement according to local custom. The victim's extended family agreed, but the girl’s mother refused and contacted the nun for help.
The abuse came to light in September 2019 after one of the victim's classmates caught the teacher molesting her and reported it to her mother.