In May, after a gang of adult men raped and murdered a 14-year-old Indonesian girl, President Joko Widodo proposed legislation to make punishments for pedophiles even harsher than before. Instead of just jail time, he suggested male perpetrators should be treated with chemical castration, in which they would be injected with female hormones to reduce their sex drive.
To the dismay of the Indonesian Doctors Association, lawmakers passed the bill and legalized the process earlier this month.
And in an interview with BBC on Wednesday, Widodo (popularly known as Jokowi) said the Indonesian constitution “respects human rights, but when it comes to sexual crimes there is no compromise.”
“In my opinion…chemical castration, if we enforce it consistently, will reduce sex crimes and wipe them out over time,” he said.
Experts disagree, saying that the procedure can be reversed with hormone therapy and would force doctors to breach ethical codes by forcibly harming patients without actual consent. The process has already been used in a number of other countries, including Poland, Russia, and even some U.S. states, including Texas and California. Some repeat offenders in the United States have even requested castration in order to avoid long prison terms, at times going beyond chemical treatment to request their testes be removed in surgery. Human rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have criticized state governments for allowing the exchange of castration for reduced prison sentences, saying the treatment is “cruel and unusual.”
Still, Indonesian Minister for Women Empowerment and Child Protection Yohana Susana Yembise said her administration was turning to prayer to ensure the success of the castration program, asking God to ensure the new law “will have the desired effect.”
“Now we have the harshest punishments: the death penalty, life in prison, chemical castration, the public naming of perpetrators and the electronic chip,” she said. “These are now law, so even if you hate the idea of them, everyone now has to support this.”
Prijo Sidipratomo, chairman of the medical ethics committee at the Indonesian Doctors Association, disagreed. “My message to all doctors across Indonesia is that as long as you’re a doctor, you cannot do it, even if the government says it is to punish a rapist,” he said in a statement. “It is harmful and it’s against human rights.”
The new legislation has prompted fears among members of the LGBT community that gay men, or those suspected by the government as being LGBT, would be labeled sex offenders only so that the government could forcibly take away their sex drive. The Indonesian government has repeatedly targeted the LGBT population by stoking fears that LGBT adults were trying to normalize non-heterosexual relationships in order to undermine Indonesian traditions. In February, Indonesia banned gay pride emojis from mobile phone applications, saying they could stir “social unrest.”
On Wednesday, Widodo tried to justify the government’s position toward LGBT rights, disparaging them as a threat to the country.
“We are the world’s largest Muslim nation and we have religious norms,” he said. “You have to remember that and know that. We have social norms.”
Photo credit: Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images