Muslim clerics, rights groups oppose local lawmakers' plan for schoolgirl virginity tests
BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Indonesian officials have dropped a plan to require female students to pass virginity tests in order to graduate from high school and apologised after sparking a public outcry, human rights campaigners said.
Habib Isa Mahdi, a lawmaker from Jember in East Java province, said last week that the district council was drafting a "good conduct" regulation that would include a virginity test as many high school students were having pre-marital sex.
Indonesia, home to the world's largest Muslim population, last year admitted conducting virginity tests on women seeking to join the police or military even though the practice has no scientific validity, according to the World Health Authority.
The Jember proposal sparked widespread condemnation, although local lawmakers in East Java's third largest urban area with a population of 330,000 defended the move and hoped it could be expanded across the Jember area of 2.3 million people.
"If they're not virgins any more, don't let them pass," local lawmaker Mufti Ali was quoted in local media as telling news site Berita.Jatim.com.
"We can't test the boys ... but at least with the regulation, girls will be afraid. The boys will be prevented from the act because girls will become unwilling."
Indonesia's top Muslim clerics opposed the proposal, saying it discriminated against female students and was contrary to Islamic teachings.
Previous attempts to introduce virginity tests for female students, in South Sumatra in 2013 and in West Java in 2007, also backfired.
Many Indonesians place a high value on virginity, but pre-marital sex is not uncommon among the younger generation. The age of consent for heterosexual sexual activity is 19 for males and 16 for females.
Amid public outrage, Jember's council deputy speaker Ayub Junaidi backed away from the proposal and apologised.
"On behalf of the Jember Consultative Council we'd like to apologise to the public, especially to all women and girls across Indonesia," he told local news site Kompas.com.
Campaign group Human Rights Watch welcomed the Jember lawmakers' U-turn but spokesman Andreas Harsono said it was alarming that the test was still used by the police and military.
Indonesia's police force came under fire three months ago for admitting it administered virginity tests for female police applicants to see if their hymen was intact. A police spokesman said the tests were part of a routine health check but there was no requirement for women to be virgins and no discrimination.
HRW has called for an end to the Indonesian government's tolerance of female virginity tests.
"It should be stopped ... it is degrading. It is discriminatory. It is cruel," Harsono told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Jakarta.
(Reporting by Alisa Tang, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)
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