Activists say Sharia shaming led to suicide in Aceh

Publicly called a prostitute, teen girl apparently chose death to escape the humiliation.

By Elisabeth Oktofani for Khabar Southeast Asia in Jakarta.

September 27, 2012
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Activists are lamenting the suicide of a 16-year-old girl in Aceh who hanged herself just days after she was arrested by Sharia police and accused of prostituting herself.

  • A Sharia policewoman escorts young women dressed in tight jeans during a street inspection in Banda Aceh. Jeans are regarded as inappropriate attire by conservative Muslims. [Tarmizy Harva/Reuters].

    A Sharia policewoman escorts young women dressed in tight jeans during a street inspection in Banda Aceh. Jeans are regarded as inappropriate attire by conservative Muslims. [Tarmizy Harva/Reuters].

  • Task Force for Children Protection co-ordinator M. Ihsan tells reporters on September 13th that Sharia law enforcers must consider a child's perspective in handling juvenile cases. [Elisabeth Oktofani /Khabar].

    Task Force for Children Protection co-ordinator M. Ihsan tells reporters on September 13th that Sharia law enforcers must consider a child's perspective in handling juvenile cases. [Elisabeth Oktofani /Khabar].

The girl and a friend were arrested as they attended a concert in Langsa, East Aceh on September 3rd. Three days later, she was found dead in her room. Her family later found a suicide note in her school bag.

"Father, forgive me, for I have brought shame on you and others, but I swear that I've never sold myself to others," the note said, according to excerpts printed in Indonesian media. "That night, I was just watching a concert in Langsa, and I was sitting on the field with a friend."

Three local tabloids ran articles the next day about the arrest of "teenage sex workers" at the concert without verifying the claims, according to the Banda Aceh chapter of the Alliance for Independent Journalists, The Jakarta Post reported.

In Jakarta, activists called for greater protection of children and an end to local laws they said discriminate against women and girls.

"The public arrest process will certainly make people feel humiliated," Feri Kusuma from the Commission on Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) said at a press conference on September 13th.

"The procedure for the implementation of Sharia law for juveniles must be differentiated from adults," said Maria Ulfah Anshor, former chairwoman of the women's wing of Nahdlatul Ulama, the largest Islamic organisation in Indonesia. "The implementation should refer to the 2002 Children Protection Regulation, which requires a children-specific approach."

"It needs to be understood that teenagers or children accept negative labels in different ways than adults," agreed M. Ihsan, co-ordinator of the Task Force for the Protection of Children (Satgas Perlindungan Anak). "It is very important to use a children's perspective for cases involving juveniles."

He regretted that Sharia police arrested a juvenile in a public place and directly accused her of violating Sharia law without further investigation.

Many juveniles who have a public encounter with the Sharia enforcers do not want to go back to school because of the stigma – regardless of whether their actions were right or wrong, he said.

According to the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan), the case is not the first in which a public-shaming based on morality laws had led to death. "PE's case is actually not the first time it happened," Komnas Perempuan Commissioner Andy Yentriyani said, using the initials of the girl who hanged herself.

She pointed to the case of Lilis Lisdawati, a housewife from Tangerang, Banten arrested and incarcerated in 2007 on charges of being a prostitute. With no access to judicial recourse, unable to regain her good name, Lilis sank into a depression and died.

Komnas Perempuan has identified 282 regional regulations (Peraturan Daerah/Perda) that discriminate against women, including 207 that directly target women, Andy said. For example, 60 local laws regulate how a woman dresses, and 38 limit a woman's freedom of movement.

Many such regulations are established to promote religious values and morality. But their implementation tends to violate human rights that are protected by the Constitution, she said.

Komnas Perempuan has identified 15 discriminatory regulations in Aceh. Violations can lead to cruel and humiliating punishments such as beatings, canings, being bathed in sewage water, being paraded and forced to marry, the group said.

"Even though Aceh implements Sharia law, the implementation must be in accordance with --and follow-- our Constitution," Andy told reporters.

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