Word that a school district in South Sumatra may require Senior High School (SMA) girls to submit to a virginity test has sparked an outcry in Indonesia.
"We are planning a virginity test for SMA girls and their equivalent. We're proposing funding for the test in the 2014 regional budget," Kompas quoted H. M. Rasyid, head of the educational office in Prabumulih, South Sumatra, as saying on August 19th.
He said he expected the plan would be controversial. "But, at the same time, we hope girl students don't fall into something negative. That is why we are discussing this for next year".
Proposal met with outrage
A few days later, Rasyid vigorously denied his office was considering such a policy, and said the media had misinterpreted his statements, according to The Jakarta Globe. But the initial report triggered widespread response.
"If the goal is improvement, so that our children avoid negative things, there are more noble ways," Education Minister Mohammad Nuh told reporters at the State Palace in Jakarta.
"If they are not virgins, then what? Will they not be allowed to go to school?" asked the minister, clearly irate.
His deputy minister, Musliar Kasim, said such tests would interfere with the government's efforts to retain students through high school.
"Precisely because of that, I want to urge all local authorities in charge of education not to perform virginity tests on incoming students," he said.
"Our data on secondary school attendance is still low, 70-80%," he said, adding that virginity tests would create a greater gap for girl students.
Kunthi Tridewiyanti of the National Commission for Women (Komnas Perempuan) said the policy would be a step backward for Indonesia if enacted.
"This is a clear discrimination against women. Does this mean only women are responsible for bad acts in society?" she commented to Khabar.
"With this requirement, we are not progressing in promoting human rights and women's rights. We are stepping backward instead," she said.
The idea has received some support in certain quarters. Deputy head of the United Development Party (PPP) Hasrul Azwar told Kompas such tests are needed "from time to time" due to "the rampant premarital sex among students".
Elsewhere, the Indonesia Ulema Council (MUI) of Pamekasan, Madura, has been pressing the local government to mandate a virginity test for high school girls.
"If students are engaging in sex, schools will be tarnished in the eyes of society because they cannot improve their students' morals," said Zainal Alim, the secretary for MUI Pamekasan. He said that schools also need more religious education.
A group of high school students in Madiun, East Java, told Khabar they could not understand why the education office and other institutions were insisting on knowing this most private matter.
Anita Nurhandayani, 16, said the proposal made her and her friends nervous. "It's making us afraid to come to school," she said.
She said they wanted to know just how the tests would be carried out and by whom. "I am afraid if we become the object of an examination and we don't know what the point is," she said.
Widya Nurani, a 13-year-old student in South Sumatra, expressed fear that girls who do not pass the test would be deprived of their education.
"Our constitution guarantees our right to get or to pursue education. It does not mention there is an exception for those who are not virgins anymore," she said.
"I think the virginity test will not enforce moral development in our society. It will not educate students. I believe it is possible to approach the younger generations like myself by introducing sex education as early as possible," she said.