The alleged gang rape and murder of a 4-year-old girl in Sorong, West Papua, on Jan. 12 has shocked and angered Indonesian society and sparked serious concerns over the rise of sexual violence in the country.
While the nature of the crime and the age of the victim make this case especially shocking, it has unfortunately become part of an alarming pattern of sexual violence in Indonesia. The case highlights endemic gender-based violence against women, not only in Papua, but also nationwide.
The National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) has praised efforts by the police, who have moved swiftly to detain the alleged perpetrators. Three men with ages ranging from 19 to 20, are currently held by the Sorong Police. The suspects were neighbors of the victim, whom they allegedly kidnapped while her parents were not at home. They allegedly committed the rape and murder while being intoxicated before throwing the victim's body into a muddy swamp, where residents later discovered it during a search.
Despite the gruesome incident having occurred at the far end of the archipelago, some aspects of the case are starkly reminiscent of the gang rape and murder of a 14-year-old school girl, identified by the initials Y.Y., by 14 youths in Bengkulu in April last year. Both cases involved the gang rape and murder of girls by multiple offenders and in both cases, alcohol featured prominently.
In the aftermath of the Bengkulu case, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo issued a statement saying that sexual violence against children is an extraordinary crime and that extraordinary efforts are required to prevent it.
In response, the government submitted a regulation in lieu of law that would amend the Child Protection Law, which the House of Representatives passed in May 2016. The new law details harsher punishments for perpetrators of sexual abuse of children and it includes chemical castration of offenders and even the imposition of the death penalty in such cases.
One of the perpetrators involved in the rape and murder of Y.Y. has been sentenced to death so far.
Speaking at a press conference, the Sorong Police chief said the three suspects in the West Papua case will be charged under the revised Child Protection Law and thus castration and the death penalty are possible sentencing options.
Aside from introducing harsher penalties for offenders, the government has not yet been seen to take the extraordinary measures mentioned by the president to prevent child sex crimes. It is unlikely that those allegedly involved in the West Papua case were aware that castration or the death penalty were possible punishments for their crimes, but even if they knew, it obviously would not have prevented them from committing such heinous acts.
Komnas Perempuan explained that the rise in the number of child sex cases, despite harsher punishments, demonstrates that the eradication of such crimes is not possible with a purely law-based approach. It requires a comprehensive range of preventative measures that includes involvement by politicians, civil society, religious organizations and community figures.
The increase in the number of documented gang rape cases in Indonesia points to a disturbing new pattern of sexual violence that needs to be combated with systematic interventions, focusing on education and prevention. The continuing rise of sexual violence against children highlights serious failures and shortcomings in the protection of one of society's most vulnerable groups.
Castration and the death penalty and are knee-jerk responses to ingrained social problems that, aside from being inhumane and in contravention of human rights principles, are costly forms of punishment that have not proven to be effective in reducing such crimes. The punishments do nothing to address the root causes of sexual violence and are not valid substitutes for preventative measures.
Komnas Perempuan, along with the Service Provider Forum, drafted the elimination of sexual violence bill, which was included in the Houses' 2016 national legislation program. However, there was no deliberation on the bill and it has subsequently been included in the 2017 national legislation program, awaiting discussion and approval by the national legislature.
The bill not only expands the number of types of sexual violence covered by the law, but also focuses heavily on prevention. It does this by outlining provisions for introducing gender-sensitive training in law enforcement institutions and focusing on the rehabilitation of offenders, where possible.
A major feature of the bill is the introduction of a curriculum on school levels that will focus on countering gender-based violence and promoting reproductive health. Emphasis is placed on involving religious figures and organizations in active discussions and efforts to prevent sexual violence. The bill also emphasizes the provision of rehabilitation and reparations for victims of sexual violence and their families. The House needs to pass this bill speedily, as it is an important step in combating the scourge of sexual violence in Indonesia.
Jack Britton is a volunteer at Komnas Perempuan in Jakarta. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Komnas Perempuan. Reproduction is authorized, provided the source is acknowledged.