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‘Homes of horror’: Youngster intercourse abuse in Indonesia’s faculties | Youngster Rights Information

Medan, Indonesia – A child abuse incident in Medan, North Sumatra, has highlighted the need for schools and local authorities in Indonesia to better protect their students, especially when the perpetrators are religious leaders, experts have said.

At a school in Medan, six female students came forward last month to claim that the institution’s male headmaster, who is also a Protestant priest, had sexually assaulted them.

Mira *, the mother of one of the alleged victims, told Al Jazeera that her 13-year-old daughter had been taken to a motel at least four times from the age of eleven, where she was sexually assaulted.

“My daughter said the headmaster told other staff that he would take her to karate training outside the school,” said Mira. “When they got to the hotel, he stripped her, blindfolded her, and forced her to give him oral sex. When she tried to fight back, he pulled her head down by the hair to force her to continue. “

Mira filed a police report against the alleged perpetrator earlier this month.

Five other students also said they were detained in the headmaster’s office for “special classes,” including English classes and ballet, but were forced to sit on the man’s lap while he sexually assaulted them.

It is not clear how many cases of child sexual abuse occur in schools each year in Indonesia, although the National Commission on Violence Against Women recorded more than 38,000 cases of violence against women and children in 2020, the highest ever.

Mira, the mother of one of the alleged victims in Medan, says she is proud of her daughter for speaking out [Aisyah Llewellyn/Al Jazeera]In the past few years, the Southeast Asian nation has been rocked by a number of high-profile child sexual abuse cases.

In 2020, the head of an Islamic boarding school in Aceh Province was sentenced to 15 years in prison for assaulting 15 male students and a Catholic priest, “Brother Angelo,” who was suspected of sexually assaulting minors in A children’s home was arrested in Jakarta in 2021 is currently on trial.

However, many such cases are deliberately kept away from the public.

“When sexual violence is perpetrated by religious leaders, it is a very difficult process as people believe that the perpetrator is unlikely to commit violence as these leaders are considered holy figures, authoritative and nurturing. Many victims are judged by their local community and accused of seducing the perpetrators, ”said Ermelina Singereta, a lawyer with the Jakarta law firm Dike Nomia, which represents the victims in the Brother Angelo case.

In Medan, Mira says the school first tried to resolve the case internally, with the school principal signing a written agreement apologizing to two of the victims and promising not to offend again, which Singereta found very often.

“Many cases are resolved through religious organizations because of a lack of education or information in the community,” she said. “Sometimes religious organizations solve the problem of violence against women or children with internal mechanisms, even if they have a responsibility to go through state legal mechanisms.”

Indonesia’s child protection laws were created in 2002 and updated in 2014.

Penalties for those convicted of sexually abusing a minor can range from five to 15 years in prison, despite the fact that the Indonesian parliament proposed a new amendment in 2016 following the rape and murder of a 14-year-old teenager in Bengkulu on the west coast of Sumatra.

One of the proposed changes to the 2016 bill allows for chemical castration of convicted pedophiles by injection. Indonesian President Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, signed the use of chemical castration in January 2021, although the punishment has not yet been carried out.

Fear and shame

Sister Eustochia Monika Nata, a Catholic nun who works with victims of child sexual abuse as part of the Volunteer Team for Humanity (TRUK-F) on Flores, eastern Indonesia, told Al Jazeera that the town of Maumere alone has a population of around 90,000 People she sees about 30 new cases of sexual assault on children and minors every year.

“These are the cases that are reported to us at TRUK-F and so there are likely many more that are not reported,” she adds.

“Some of the victims become pregnant as a result of the abuse and do not want to report what happened to them because they are ashamed or because they believe they are not being helped by the investigative authorities.”

Ranto Sibarani, a Medan-based human rights attorney who represents the six alleged victims of the Protestant school, told Al Jazeera that the trial for victims of sexual assault can be lengthy and arduous, and more needs to be done to support the victims and encourage them , To take action.

“In Indonesia, women and children are often in the weakest position to stand up for their rights, so it is important that we empower them to do so,” he said. “In many parts of the country they are considered second-class citizens because of the patriarchal dominance in Indonesian society.”

Lawyer Ranto Sibarani called for stricter security measures to protect children [Aisyah Llewellyn/Al Jazeera]He also said stricter security measures need to be put in place and urged the government and the Ministry of Education to take steps to more closely monitor educational and religious staff.

“I would ask the government to reevaluate how both teachers and religious leaders are hired and how they can get jobs in schools without adequate background checks and psychological assessments that would help keep students safe,” said the lawyer. “Child sexual abuse cases are worse than terrorism because we have no idea how many victims are actually affected.”

On April 16, angry parents held a protest outside the school in Medan, demanding a full investigation and urging staff to cooperate with local authorities. They also held signs asking that the headmaster, who was still to be arrested, be released.

Mira says she is proud of her daughter for speaking out and her family felt compelled to report the abuse to authorities for fear that other victims may be affected in the future.

“The number of victims who have come forward is probably the tip of the iceberg, so is him [the principal] has to be stopped or it will do it again, ”she said. “He was her teacher, but for two years he treated my daughter like an animal.”

“We hope schools are the safest places for parents to raise their children,” added Sibarani. “But this case shows how even schools that claim to promote strong religious values ​​can become houses of horror.”

* Mira is a pseudonym used to protect her daughter’s identity.