Indonesian Girls Lack of Reproductive Health Services

November 4, 2010

Indonesian laws need to be reformed to help overcome discriminatory practices © Amnesty International

Today, we issued a new report that reveals many Indonesian women and girls, especially those from poor and marginalized communities, struggle to achieve reproductive health in the face of discriminatory laws, policies and practices.

The report, Left Without a Choice, describes how government restrictions and discriminatory traditions threaten the lives of many Indonesian woman and girls by putting reproductive health services beyond their reach.

The Indonesian government has pledged to enhance gender equality, but many Indonesian women still struggle for fair and equal treatment. A combination of unchallenged social attitudes, unfair laws and stereotyped gender roles often relegate women to second-class status.

Our research shows how discriminatory practices and problematic laws are restricting access to contraception for unmarried women and girls, and allowing early marriage for girls younger than 16. The law also requires a woman to get her husband’s consent to access certain contraception methods, or an abortion in the event that her life is at risk. Amnesty International also found that health workers frequently deny the full range of legally available contraceptive services to unmarried or childless married women.

Even though the government has taken steps for better protection for women victim of violence, it is failing to ensure that survivors of rape can access health information and services. Although abortion is legally available to women and girls who become pregnant as a result of rape, this fact is not well known, even amongst health workers, and victims of rape can face significant obstacles to accessing safe abortion services.

Interviews with dozens of Indonesian women and girls, as well as health workers, highlighted how these restrictions increase unwanted pregnancies and force many women and girls to marry young or drop out of school.

Many others choose illegal abortions. An estimated 2 million abortions are performed in Indonesia every year, many of them in unsafe conditions. According to official government figures, unsafe abortions are responsible for between five and 11 per cent of maternal deaths in Indonesia.

Sharifah was one such girl.  Her experience, unfortunately, is very typical in Indonesia.  When she became pregnant at 17, her boyfriend left her and her school expelled her. Traditional healers in her village induced an abortion, but she soon developed complications. Two days later she had died from blood loss.

Restrictions on sexual and reproductive rights are placing severe and potentially deadly obstacles in the way many women and girls can access reproductive health information and services.

Indonesia must do more to ensure that old stereotypes and mindsets are replaced with a more forward-looking recognition of the problems and needs facing their wives, sisters and daughters.