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Asia

Jakarta moves to castrate sexual abusers

The number of cases of child sexual abuse has risen sharply in Indonesia over the past few years. The president now aims to crack down, though human rights organizations are saying he is going too far.

Jamaludin was seven years old and a first-grade student at a public elementary school in Depok, a city located south of Indonesia's capital Jakarta. He often met up after school with Januar, 35, whom he considered a friend.

They would go together to a nearby arcade and spend hours playing video games. But one day Jamaludin didn't return home afterwards. His worried parents called the police. And the police found the young boy in Januar's apartment, dead in the bathroom. He had been beaten and sexually abused, then strangled.

Indonesia in shock

Jamaludin is only the most recent victim in a long succession of extremely brutal child abuse cases now rocking Indonesia. KPAI, the country's child protection commission, has registered around 16,000 such cases in the past four years. About 60 percent of these involved sexual abuse.

Indonesien Kindesmissbrauch Banda Aceh

A six-year-old girl was victim to an alleged abuse by a local policeman in 2014

Most of the violence was carried out by acquaintances, including family members and teachers. And the increasing audacity of the abusers has been striking. In April 2015, two teachers at the Jakarta International School were convicted for having abused multiple students.

In August 2015, an eight-year-old girl in Bali was killed - allegedly by her adoptive parents - and buried in the backyard. Two months later, the corpse of a nine-year-old girl was found in a cardboard box on the side of a street. She was raped multiple times before being killed.

Arist Merdeka Sirait, the head of KPAI, has long said that Indonesia is in the middle of a "crisis of sexual violence" and has repeatedly criticized the authorities for not doing more to prevent pedophilia and child abuse. Until now, the maximum penalty for child abuse was 15 years in prison. Offenders have often gotten away with much less.

'A sensible and effective deterrent'

"Sexual assaults against children must be judged as exceptionally severe crimes and penalized as toughly as corruption, terrorism or drug trafficking," Sirait demanded. And a growing number of Indonesians stand behind him. Outrage is seething on social media, where many people are demanding a government crackdown.

Indonesien Kindesmissbrauch Proteste in Banda Aceh

Protests are taking place in many parts of the country - like here in the city of Banda Aceh

The government has since responded. President Joko Widodo announced that laws and sentences would be made stricter. And now he seeks to sign an act that would allow for the chemical castration of convicted offenders. This would involve the injection of female hormones so as to suppress the formation of testosterone, arresting a man's sex drive.

Sirait, who believes that even the death penalty should be considered in especially serious cases, sees chemical castration as a "sensible and effective deterrent." Indonesia's Attorney General Prasetyo also supported the measure, saying that it would lead a potential abuser to "think it over a thousand times" before they could really carry out such an act.

He explained that President Widodo intends to enact the measure by decree. It would therefore enter into effect automatically, without the need for parliament's approval.

Criticism from activists

Yet many experts and human rights activists stand against the planned measure. Amnesty International, for instance, considers the forced consumption of such medication to be a human rights violation.

Punishing abusers, Siti Noor Laila of Indonesia's National Commission for Human Rights adds, must be done in harmony with the UN Human Rights Charter and taking into account legal and just means. Indonesia ratified an international convention against torture and human rights violations in 1998.

In addition, Supriyadi Eddyono from the Jakarta-based Institute for Criminal Justice Reform said that chemical castration doesn't combat the source of sexual child abuse. He calls instead for convicted offenders to be brought under intensive psychological care and for more extensive prevention measures to be put in place.

To date, chemical castrations as a penalty for sexual abuse have only been carried out in a few countries, including South Korea, Moldova, Russia and Estonia, as well as a few US states. Malaysia and India have also considered such an initiative.