When Putri Erlina, 16, hanged herself to death shortly after being arrested by sharia police, condolences were not the only forms of expression that poured in from ordinary members of the public. Putri's suicide sparked protests among child and women's rights activists who condemned existing discriminatory regulations against women and children. "Putri is a victim of discriminatory policies made in the name of morality and religion," said Andy Yentriyani from the National Women's Commission (NWC) last week.
According to the NWC's records, there has been a steady increase in the passing of such discriminatory policies which target children and women in particular, without any concern for their rights. As of August this year, there are 282 pieces of legislation considered discriminatory against women and children. Of them, 126 were issued by regional administrations.
Among the 282, 207 of them directly discriminate against women. They regulate how women should wear their clothes, criminalize women through prostitution and anti-pornograpy laws, restrict a woman's movements through curfew hours and underscore different rights for men and women at work.
In Aceh particularly, NWC recorded 15 discriminatory policies currently in effect across provincial and regency levels. One of them is Qanun (Islamic bylaw) No. 14/2003 on khalwat. This bylaw was used to arrest Putri.
According to Section 20 of Article 1 of the bylaw, khalwat is a private meeting between two people of the opposite sex who are neither married nor close family members. The public are forbidden to commit khalwat and to facilitate khalwat. The public are also forbidden from protecting those who conduct khalwat (Articles 4 to 6).
The qanun also stresses that violators shall be subject to a minimum of three lashes and a maximum of nine lashes. They are also threatened with imprisonment of a minimum of two months and maximum of six months (Article 22). Repeat offenders are subject to additional penalty of one-third of the maximum sentence.
Canings are so far carried out in public, although the qanun stipulates that the strokes should not injure the offender. Those who drafted these bylaws believe and have argued that punishment by caning is more effective as it only embarrasses the offender without causing additional risks for the family.
NWC certainly disagrees with this. According to the commission, the laws made to humiliate people often miss the mark, particularly when those punished are children. On the other hand, such laws often traumatize and stigmatize young offenders in the long run. Moreover, from the commission's observation, the implementation of a number of qanun in Aceh drafted on grounds of upholding morality often involve the following acts: beatings, pouring sewage water on the accused, parading the accused around the village, and forced marriages of underage youths.
As such, Andy has urged the immediate revision of all such discriminatory bylaws, which have also long been decried by the National Human Rights Commission.
By Jajang Jamaludin
No. 04/13, September 18, 2012
A caning in Aceh Besar, October 2012