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Indonesia backs death penalty, chemical castration for child sex abuse

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Darren Whiteside/Reuters

(Read caption) Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

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In Indonesia, men found guilty of sex offenses against children can be chemically castrated or even put to death. Following what he calls a "crisis" of child sexual abuse throughout the country, President Joko Widodo issued this emergency decree.

"This regulation is intended to overcome the crisis caused by sexual violence against children," said President Widodo, more commonly known as Jokowi. "Sexual crimes against children are extraordinary crimes, because they threaten the lives of children."

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Indicative of the crisis, a drunken group of 14 men and boys gang-raped and murdered a teenage girl walking home from school in Bengkulu province, Sumatra, in May. Women's rights activists called on the government to urgently respond to the issue of sexual violence. According to Indonesia's National Commission on Violence Against Women, around 35 women each day in the country fall victim to sexual violence.

Jokowi signed a decree on Wednesday amending Indonesia's 2002 child-protection law and allowing judges to sentence child sex offenders to chemical castration if they so choose, or even the death penalty. Indonesia may receive criticism for expanded use of the death penalty, as already it has already been criticized for using it against drug traffickers. Last year, Indonesia faced strained international relations after it executed eight convicted drug traffickers, including seven foreigners, by firing squad.

The new decree also allows judges to mandate that convicted sex offenders wear electronic tags, such as microchips in their legs, upon their release from prison. Jokowi also increased the maximum jail sentences for convicts from 10 to 20 years.

"The inclusion of such an amendment will provide space for the judge to decide severe punishments as a deterrent effect on perpetrators," Jokowi said. "These crimes have undermined the development of children, and these crimes have disturbed our sense of peace, security, and public order... So we will handle it in an extraordinary way."

Chemical castration, which uses drugs to reduce sex drive, has been used to punish sex offenders and pedophiles in a number of countries, including the United States, Australia, Russia, and South Korea, often in exchange for a lighter prison sentence.

Chemical castration remains a controversial measure. Some argue that chemical castration does not adequately deal with the more complex social problems behind sexual violence against children, while others see it as a beneficial technique. "Chemical castration is in fact a therapy that is a form of rehabilitation, not a way to be cured," Mariana Amiruddin, head of the National Commission on Violence Against Women, wrote on Facebook.  

"Chemical castration risks offering a false solution, and a simple one to what is inevitably a complex and difficult problem," said Heather Barr, senior researcher on women's rights at the Human Rights Watch told The New York Times.

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"Protecting children from sexual abuse requires a complex and carefully calibrated set of responses," that may include social services, educational efforts to identify and prevent abuse, services to treat people at risk of sexually abusing children, and prevention-focused measures within the criminal justice system. "Chemical castration on its own addresses none of thee needs and medical interventions should be used, if at all, only as part of a skilled treatment program, not as a punishment," she said.