Medan, Indonesia – A case of child rape in Medan, North Sumatra has highlighted the need for Indonesian schools and government officials to better protect their students, especially when perpetrators and religious leaders, experts say.
At a school in Medan, six female students came last month to accuse the union’s male pastor, who is also a Protestant priest, of sexually assaulting them.
Mira *, the mother of one of the alleged perpetrators, told Al Jazeera that their 13-year-old daughter had been taken to a local motel about four times since she was 11, where she was raped.
“My daughter said the headmaster told some of his co-workers that they were taking him to do karate outside the stadium,” Mira said. “When he arrived at the hotel, he stripped her naked, covered her face and forced her to have oral sex. When she tried to resist, he cut off her head and hair to force her to continue.”
Mira filed a lawsuit against those who told her earlier this month.
Five other female students were also detained in the principal’s office for “special education” as well as English and ballet classes but were forced to sit on the man’s lap while being tortured.
It is not known how many cases of child abuse in schools occur each year in Indonesia, although the National Commission on Violence Against Women filed more than 38,000 cases of violence against women and children by 2020, the most serious cases.
In recent years the Southeast Asian nation has been rocked by a number of cases of child abuse.
In 2020, the headmaster of a Muslim boarding school in Aceh Province was sentenced to 15 years in prison for beating 15 students that year and a Catholic priest, “Brother Angelo”, who was arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting children in a children’s home in Jakarta in 2021 is here to be tried.
But many such cases are deliberately concealed.
“When religious leaders commit sexual acts, it is very difficult, because people believe that the perpetrator will not commit acts of violence, because the clergy are considered clean, trustworthy and caring. Many victims can be prosecuted by the community and charged with sedition, “said Ermelina Singereta, a lawyer at the Dike Nomia Law Firm in Jakarta, which represents victims in the” Brother Angelo “case.
In Medan, Mira says the school tried to deal with the case internally, when the principal signed a document, in which he apologized to the two victims and promised he would not retaliate, which Singereta realized was common.
“Most cases are resolved through religious institutions, due to lack of education or knowledge in the area,” he said. “Sometimes religious organizations solve the problem of violence against women or children by using internal mechanisms even when they have a duty to comply with state law.”
Indonesia’s child protection laws were enacted in 2002 and amended in 2014.
Punishment for victims of child abuse can range from five to 15 years in prison, although the Indonesian Parliament ruled in 2016 following the rape and murder of a 14-year-old teenager in Bengkulu on the west coast of Sumatra.
One of the changes to the 2016 law allows injecting drugs into children with convicted cases and injections. Indonesian President Joko Widodo, also known as Jokowi, signed a drug application in January 2021, although the sanction did not go unnoticed.
Fear and shame
Sister Eustochia Monika Nata, a Catholic nun who works with the victims as part of the Volunteer Team for Humanity (TRUK-F) in Flores in eastern Indonesia, told Al Jazeera that it was the only Maumere town, with a large population. about 90,000 people, see 30 new cases of child and child rape each year.
“These are the cases that are being reported to TRUK-F, which is why there are so many others that have not been reported,” he added.
“Some of the victims are pregnant because of the abuse, and do not want to talk about what happened to them because of embarrassment or because they think they are not being helped by the investigators.”
Ranto Sibarani, a human rights lawyer in Medan representing the six victims of a Protestant school, told Al Jazeera that legal proceedings could be lengthy and difficult for victims of abuse and other measures to help those affected to take action.
“In Indonesia, women and children are often the most vulnerable to the protection of their rights, so it is important that we empower them to do so,” she said. “In many parts of the country, they are considered to be high-ranking citizens because of the ancestral rule that ruled the Indonesian people.”
He emphasized the need to focus on security measures, and urged the government and the Ministry of Education to take action on the issue.
“I urge the government to reconsider how teachers and religious leaders are recruited and how they can get a teaching job in schools without adequate scrutiny and psychological assessment that will help keep students safe,” the lawyer said. “Child rape cases are worse than terrorism because we don’t know how many people have been affected in the past.”
On April 16, angry parents staged a protest outside the school in Medan demanding that they be fully investigated and called on co-workers to co-operate with government officials. They also have placards demanding that the headmaster, who has not yet been arrested, be fired.
Mira says she is proud of her daughter for speaking out and her relatives have been forced to say this to the authorities fearing that some of those affected may be affected in the future.
“The number of victims who have come forward is probably the end of the ice, so he [the principal] he should be suspended or he will go back, ”he said. “She was his teacher but for two years he treated my son like an animal.”
“We hope that schools will be a great place for parents to teach their children,” added Sibarani. “But this story shows that even schools that claim to promote religious traditions can become dangerous homes.”
* Myra is a false name to protect her child from being his wife.