JAKARTA, Jul. 5 (IPS) — Nine-year-old Yustina was shocked and terrified when her teacher whipped her in front of her classmates after the child missed church. Believing she was given too harsh a punishment, Yustina complained to her mother, only to be told: “That’s your fault. I told you to go to church, but you chose to play.” Distressed, Yustina recounted the five lashes she endured to her grandfather, who immediately confronted her teacher in the small village of Ruteng in Flores, East Nusa Tenggara, one of the predominantly Christian provinces in mainly Muslim Indonesia. Eyeing the knife Yustina’s grandfather was carrying, the teacher explained that the whipping was meant to teach “disobedient” pupils discipline.
Yustina’s case is hardly an isolated incident. Despite growing condemnation of corporal punishment around the world, it still a common practice at many schools in Indonesia. “The teachers think that by giving corporal punishment to students, they will get a quick remedy and tame recalcitrant students,” says Indra Djati Sidi, director-general of elementary and secondary education of the Ministry of National Education.
“Not every teacher in Indonesia thinks beating children is a bad thing,” concedes Anne-Marie Fonseka, an official with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Jakarta. Results of a recent UNICEF study show that students in many parts of Indonesia — Palembang in South Sumatra, Semarang in Central Java, Ujung Pandang in South Sulawesi and Kupang in East Nusa Tenggara — suffer physical abuse from their teachers. Aside from Palembang, Semarang, Ujung Pandang, and Kupang, the UNICEF study covered the cities of Medan, North Sumatra and Surabaya, East Java. At schools in Medan and Surabaya, students also suffer physical abuse from friends, adds the study.
In a country where children’s rights are a new concept and teachers are seen to have complete authority inside schools, corporal punishment has never been much of a public issue. “The Indonesian people think corporal punishment at schools or child abuse by teachers is a sensitive issue so they do not talk about it, but in reality it is one of the underlying causes why children drop out of schools,” Fonseka says. “If there is a lot of corporal punishment at schools, it is a turn-off for the children. How can the children study hard when their environment is not good?” she argues.
However, the Ministry of National Education has never conducted a comprehensive survey of the problem. “The Ministry of National Education is aware of the street brawls among students, but not the beatings done by the teachers to their students,” Fonseka laments. Student brawls, locally known as “tawuran,” are a common occurrence in Indonesia.
“There are too many teachers in Indonesia so it is very difficult to know them one by one and monitor their actions,” Sidi says. There are at least two million private and public school teachers at 173,000 elementary and junior high schools in Indonesia, a country of more than 200 million people. “Teachers are regarded quite highly in the society. The people do not question their decisions,” Fonseka says, explaining the societal norms that treat the authority of teachers as superior.
“Children are always regarded as subordinate to adults. They occupy the weaker position,” says Arist Merdeka Sirait, executive director of the independent National Commission for Child Protection. Generally, teachers in Indonesia prefer using “authority” and “power” to more conciliatory methods of discipline. Not many seem aware that children even have rights. “Most Indonesian teachers practice the top-down approach,” Fonseka says. Child abuse by teachers can ultimately be traced to their lack of knowledge of child rights, despite legal instruments like the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), Sirait says. Indonesia ratified the convention in August 1990, but its implementation is “not good,” according to Human Rights State Minister Hasballah Saad. “The convention still needs to be socialized.”
The education ministry, however, points out that Indonesian teachers who mete out corporal punishment to students often do so unconsciously. “The teachers who give corporal punishment are not knowledgeable enough on how to educate their students. They may have problems in their families or they may be sick,” Sidi says. Over the past two years, the Ministry of National Education has dismissed many teachers for weak performance, but none have been fired for physically punishing students. “Since I became a director general two years ago, I never heard of teachers getting dismissed for giving harsh treatment to students,” Sidi says.
In Indonesia, there is no effective system to detect child abuse at schools. The country’s hospitals, for instance, neither report nor keep records of child abuse cases. Indonesian students, including their parents, also rarely report abusive acts by teachers to the police, as they believe “teachers are educators who always know the good ways to educate children.” “We would like the communities, including the parents and teachers associations to be involved in the educational system to minimize corporal punishment at schools,” Sidi says. “We also want to encourage the teachers to change their approach from top-down to bottom-up, from teaching to learning, and from knowledge-based to competency-based,” he adds.
To help the Indonesian government stem corporal punishment in schools, UNICEF is raising the awareness of teachers about child rights. It also plans to set up child protection institutions in Indonesia’s provincial capitals, where corporal punishment in schools remains entrenched. “Schools must be child-friendly. Corporal punishment given to children at schools often turns to be not educational because it brings shame to the victims,” Fonseka says.
Indonesia: Letter to Minister of Education and Culture
HRW Urges Indonesian Government To Dismantle Barriers To Academic Freedom
May 28, 1998
Dr. Juwono Sudarsono
Minister of Education and Culture
Republic of Indonesia
Dear Minister Sudarsono:
On behalf of the Human Rights Watch Academic Freedom Committee, we are writing this open letter to urge you to make protection of academic freedom your highest priority in your new position as Minister of Education. The success of the campus-based protest movement in forcing the resignation of President Soeharto and in opening the door to more comprehensive political reform provides an historic opportunity for Indonesia to build a more open and democratic society. We are encouraged by the government’s recent embrace of reform initiatives. We believe, however, that on campus as well as elsewhere in society, the push for greater openness can achieve lasting results only if the rights to free expression, association and assembly, so forcefully claimed by students, faculty and alumni in recent months, are given full legal and institutional protection.
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Students and faculty emerged at the forefront of the reform movement in large measure because they publicly spoke their minds, courageously and consistently ignoring a variety of repressive laws, regulations, decrees, and abusive practices that have long limited political and intellectual freedom on Indonesia’s campuses. Although the momentum of the reform movement has rendered such constraints largely unenforceable for the time being, they continue to exist on paper and in principle, and thus continue to threaten the future autonomy of Indonesia’s academic community.
We call on the government of Indonesia to dismantle immediately the mechanisms of centralized government and military control over academic life implemented during President Soeharto’s thirty-two year New Order rule. The government should immediately take the following steps:
1. Repeal the set of ministerial decrees known collectively as “Normalization of Campus Life — Coordinating Body for Student Affairs” (Normalisasi Kehidupan Kampus — Badan Koordinasi Kemahasiswaan or NKK/BKK), decrees which formally prohibit students from engaging in political activity on campus and make university administrators answerable to military authorities and to the central government in Jakarta for violations of the restrictions. The government should also make a public commitment to respecting students’ basic rights, including their right to hold peaceful public protest marches. A uniform prohibition on citizens’ exercise of basic rights is impermissible no matter where the prohibition is applied. The government in the past justified the ban on student political activity by stating that campuses should be the site of study and research, not political activity, and by asserting that students may engage in political activity through established political parties based off-campus. The government’s academic justification is pernicious. Experience has repeatedly demonstrated that academic freedom — and the spirit of critical inquiry it embodies — cannot flourish where members of the academic community must fear censorship and politically motivated reprisals for expression of their views. The public demand for political reform unleashed by the campus-based protest movement, moreover, demonstrates that the root of the political crisis in Indonesia was not independent political activity on campus, but the lack of space for such activity off-campus.
2. End all military intervention in campus affairs. This is a prerequisite to academic freedom which is fundamentally compromised when military officials are involved in supervising or consulting with university administrators on the activities of students and faculty. A. Legal and extra-legal military and intelligence agencies, including branches of the military’s National Stability Coordinating Agency (Badan Koordinasi Bantuan Pemantapan Stabilitas Nasional or Bakorstanas), should be prohibited from engaging in on-campus intelligence gathering and harassment of students and faculty who make critical comments at seminars or in interviews with the press. B. Campus-based “student regiments” (resimen mahasiswa) should be used solely as a vehicle for recruitment and training of future military personnel, and no longer as an on-campus intelligence network by which military authorities monitor the activities of students. C. Regulations providing for coordination of efforts between university administrators in charge of student affairs (Pembantu Rektor III and Pembantu Dekan III) and military and intelligence officers, also set forth in the NKK/BKK decrees described above, should be immediately repealed. The duties and powers of the university administrators should be reformulated so as to give maximum scope to student autonomy in accordance with academic standards.
3. Repeal the so-called “special investigation” (Penelitian Khusus or Litsus) procedures which require that new teachers and entrants to a range of other “strategic professions” undergo mandatory ideological and political background checks. Individuals should no longer be banned from teaching or be subject to removal on account of their past or present political affiliations or those of their colleagues or family members. Academic merit henceforth should be the sole criterion for hiring and promotion decisions.
4. Abolish mandatory on-campus ideological indoctrination sessions known as “Guide to the Living and Experiencing of Pancasila” (Pedoman Penghayatan dan Pengamalan Pancasila or P4). If civic education is retained, academic values must at all times govern the selection of materials to be covered in the curriculum.
5. Abolish the practice by which government agencies such as the Ministry of Information and the Social and Political Affairs Directorate of the Ministry of Home Affairs maintain blacklists to prevent critical academics, writers and other disfavored individuals from attending campus seminars or stating their views in public media. Regulations requiring that seminar organizers give prior notice to the Ministry of Home Affairs and national police headquarters in Jakarta when foreign speakers are invited to campus should also be repealed.
6. Abolish research permit procedures which give government and military officials effective veto power over proposed academic field research and invite corruption. Academic merit should be the sole criteria by which proposed research is evaluated.
7. The government should cease all media and book censorship. The government censorship “clearinghouse” created in 1989 should be dismantled and the attorney general should be stripped of power to censor books and other printed materials. Although Indonesian law allows members of the academic community to apply for exemptions to use censored materials, in practice the government’s censorship of memoirs, literary works and a wide range of foreign and domestic historical and social science texts has had a chilling effect on scholarly inquiry.
Thank you for your consideration of these important matters.
Jonathan F. Fanton
Co-Chair, Human Rights Watch Academic Freedom Committee
President, New School for Social Research
Joseph H. Saunders
Human Rights Watch academic freedom program