JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Wednesday approved a law prescribing the death penalty as the maximum sentence for child rapists, after several brutal gang rapes sparked public outrage.
Sexual violence is prevalent in Southeast Asia’s most populous country, but gang rape is unusual.
Social media erupted in calls for harsher punishment following a case early this month, in which a group of men was charged with raping and killing a schoolgirl in Bengkulu in the western island of Sumatra.
The case prompted rights groups to accuse the government of not doing enough to protect women and children, and provoked a tweet by Widodo himself seeking punishment of the perpetrators, although his call came more than a month after the event.
On Wednesday, Widodo said those responsible for sexual abuse of children, as well as repeat sex offenders, could also face chemical castration and be tagged with an electronic chip to track their movements, citing the law he signed.
“Sexual violence against children is an extraordinary crime,” Widodo told a news conference at the presidential palace. “This regulation is meant to overcome (such) incidents, in which we have seen a significant rise.”
Data on the number of child sex abuse cases was not immediately available.
Rights activists warned against the decision to permit capital punishment and the use of chemical castration, however.
“In most cases the perpetrators know the victims, and these punishments are so severe that it may discourage victims from reporting the rapes,” said Andreas Harsono of New York-based Human Rights Watch.
“On their own, these punishments don’t address the need to protect children through a well-functioning welfare system.”
Widodo’s government drew international condemnation last year for its execution by firing squad of several drug traffickers, mostly foreigners, despite repeated pleas for mercy from other governments and activists.
After a year-long hiatus, Indonesia is set to resume executions this year, but authorities have given no details.
Reporting by Jakarta bureau and Kanupriya Kapoor; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Clarence Fernandez