LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A human rights group urged Indonesia on Thursday to abolish invasive “virginity tests” for female recruits and the fiancees of military officers in its armed forces, saying international treaties had described the practice as degrading and cruel.
President Joko Widodo should ask military hospitals immediately to stop administering the tests, which violate international human rights treaties that Indonesia has ratified, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.
Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population, last year admitted it conducted virginity tests on women trying to join the police or military even though the World Health Organization says the test has no scientific validity.
“The Indonesian armed forces should recognize that harmful and humiliating ‘virginity tests’ on women recruits do nothing to strengthen national security,” said Nisha Varia, HRW’s women’s rights advocacy director.
“President Joko Widodo should set the military straight and immediately abolish the requirement and prevent all military hospitals from administering it,” Varia said in a statement.
The rights group said it was calling for the support of the International Committee on Military Medicine (ICMM), which will hold its world conference in Indonesia next week. The ICMM aims to foster collaboration between members of armed forces’ medical services.
To justify the tests, military officers told female recruits the they were crucial to preserving “the dignity and the honor of the nation”, HRW said.
Officers who wish to marry require a letter of recommendation from their commanders, who only issue them upon confirmation that the fiancée has undergone a medical examination, including the “virginity test” at a military hospital.
The tests have been recognized internationally as violations of the right to non-discrimination and the prohibition of “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” under international human rights treaties that Indonesia has ratified, HRW said.
In February, Indonesian officials dropped a plan to require female students to pass virginity tests in order to graduate from high school and apologized after sparking a public outcry.
Reporting By Astrid Zweynert; Editing by Tim Pearce