By Amy Wooster
In Indonesia, despite laws and regulations to combat gender rights issues as well as efforts to spread awareness, girls and women still face many problems. The issues that currently effect girls and young women in Indonesia regard education and health, particularly reproductive health, child marriage, violence against women and child labor.
One of the most significant issues girls and young women face in Indonesia is accessibility to education. The Indonesian government has been committed to expanding access to education and released a number of policies and education programs such as aid for students who struggle financially. Yet poverty is still one of the biggest contributors to school drop out rates, although there are also issues of geographical accessibility and infrastructure. Accessibility to education is an issue that affects both boys and girls, but affects girls in particular in terms of the issues of child marriage and child labor. The problem of early marriage is another reason that girls do not get sufficient education, as what often happens is that teenage girls who get pregnant and/or get married do not continue their education, which also links to the issue of sexual health education in Indonesia.
Sexual health education in Indonesia is limited. Due to religious and cultural contexts, talking about sexual activity is still considered taboo and in some rural areas teaching about it is still forbidden. Many students have reported that that not enough information is given, and this then leads to students turning to the Internet or their peers to find out about sexual health, and they often end up receiving false information. The problem remains that students are not getting adequate information about sexual health, as giving more information about sex is traditionally viewed as encouraging teenage sexual activity. But this view is detrimental as they are not well-educated on the subject and this especially affects girls as if they get pregnant they are forced to drop out of school and get married due to societal pressure. Therefore, this lack of education leads into harmful practices towards girls and women.
According to UNICEF Indonesia ranks 7th highest globally in terms of child marriage rates and this is largely linked to the issue of premarital sex and the cultural idea that early marriage is preferable to having illegitimate children. There is also the problem that there are differing laws and regulations about the age threshold between minors and adults all around Indonesia, enabling loopholes to be found and allowing girls to marry as early as 13. Child marriage is therefore a serious national concern due to its prevalence and not only is it unethical but goes on to cause problems of unfinished education, allowing no escape from the cycle of poverty.
Violence against girls and women is another severe issue in Indonesia. The most frequent form of violence committed is violence by spouse, namely physical and/or sexual violence. It is also important to note that this is more prevalent in densely populated, impoverished areas, especially in poor residential areas where families have to live in one room, exposing children to sexual activity and violence. There is also the issue of the low reporting of violence and while there are many associations dedicated to help victims of sexual violence, prevention of violence is still a problem. Additionally, Female Genital Circumcision (FGC) is prevalent in Indonesia, and although there are many different definitions of it, girls are still being cut. There are no medical benefits to FGC and in 2010 the Head of the Indonesian Midwives Association stated that medical professionals are not taught how to perform FGC, thus it should not be performed. However this remains a serious problem as FGC is rooted in tradition and culture and continues to be performed despite being unnecessary.
Finally, the other prominent issue affecting girls and young women in Indonesia is the problem of child workers. As previously mentioned, girls often drop out of school if they become pregnant or because their families want them to pursue domestic work. In fact, one of the biggest trends is impoverished families sending their daughters to work overseas in order to provide more money. However, they often send girls who are under-aged even though there is an age limit of 18 or 21, as many practice document forgery. Domestic work also makes girls vulnerable, as it is informal work, so they are more susceptible to abuse, overtime exploitation and receiving little to no payment. Under-age girls are also more susceptible to become sex workers, becoming victims of human trafficking for prostitution. It is also proving difficult to tackle the problems of trafficking as most often syndicates and mafias are involved, making it hard to help victims. There is therefore a need for more straightforward and specific laws, as well as campaigns to spread awareness, particularly directed towards children, in order to prevent these problems.