The Jakarta Post
The debate over the distribution of free condoms has deviated to an extent that groups opposing the government’s policy are missing the whole point, experts say.
"Thirteen percent of 35 million 13 to 18-year-old teenagers in Indonesia claim to have had sex," Indonesian Child Protection Commission (KPAI) commissioner Muhammad Ihsan told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday over the phone.
“We have to make sure this 13 percent of teenagers have safe sex. Condoms should not be the issue here. The issue is the need for reproductive health.”
Ihsan's comments follow on the heels of a debate over whether the government should be allowed to distribute free condoms to those in need as a preventive measure in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Health Minister Nafsiah Mboi, for instance, said last week that in Indonesia, unprotected sex, or sex that could cause sexually-transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies, affected people from almost all age groups, including children and adolescents.
She cited National Population and Family Planning Agency (BKKBN) data that showed more than 2 million young people in Indonesia had abortions in 2010.
“It means that even children and adolescents are likely to have already had unprotected sex,” Nafsiah said.
“We also can’t deny the fact that the age of marriage is getting lower. So, younger generations should have wider access to the sexual and reproductive health services deemed effective to protect them from both infections and unintended pregnancies.”
But firebrand group Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, as well as popular Muslim cleric Yusuf Mansur and House of Representatives health commission chairwoman Ribka Tjiptaning, all saw this policy as a slippery slope that could open the gateway to adultery and free sex in society, especially among the young.
Jurnal Perempuan Foundation executive director Mariana Amiruddin says that a backlash to this policy is based on unfounded cultural fears.
"Condoms are stigmatized as objects that allow for the practice of sex without marriage, when they should instead be seen as protection from the risks of sexual activities," she told the Post via a short text message.
Preventing access to condoms won't solve the problem, she said.
"Free sex, with or without condoms, will go on, including prostitution," Mariana said.
What could solve opposing groups' fears about "free sex" was better access to reproductive health services, which included sex education in school, she said.
Unfortunately, Ihsan said that Indonesian education was inadequately equipped to teach sex education to youngsters.
He said schools would teach students about “biology and anatomy” at best.
“There are no explanations about the psychological, cultural or social aspects of sex. This is not enough for reproductive health," Ihsan said.
Education expert Arief Rachman agreed, although added that sex and gender issues should not be separated, but should rather be integrated into the school curriculum.
"Gender education is required. It has to provide scientific knowledge, such as biology and anatomy. [But] it also has to include religious perspectives about sex, like what religions think about sex, gender and morality," Arief told the Post over the phone.
What is at stake in this matter is that teenagers will face sexual matters without adequate knowledge of how to deal with them, he said.
"In the end, if we don't properly teach them about sex, teenagers will want to find out about sex on their own, discretely, by doing things like watching pornography or experimenting with their peers," Ihsan said.