Pregnancy can be a blessing or a curse. For some, falling pregnant is a happy event; a long-awaited realisation of a dream. For others, it is a nightmare.
Unwanted pregnancies have many causes. Contraception can fail. A pregnancy can result from rape or incest. But ignorance, fed by a systemic failure to cope with changing sexual behaviour amongst teenagers, is perhaps the major cause of unwanted pregnancies in Indonesia. For example, it is commonly believed that the withdrawal method or the use of a douche after sex will guarantee the prevention of pregnancy.
Driving without a licence
In the year 2000, 910 senior school students in North Sumatra were surveyed about their sexual behaviour. Two hundred and ninety-five of them had experienced some sort of sexual contact. While the majority of these students only admitted to hugging or kissing, 28 described their experiences of penetrative sex while another 31 had engaged in masturbation with a partner.
The same survey asked where the students had received information about sex. Only 10 per cent said they received sex education at home. Almost 33 per cent found out about sex from their friends. Over half the respondents relied on their teachers for information. Yet sex education in Indonesian schools leaves much to be desired. In fact, the only class in which students can learn about reproduction is senior biology — a subject taken by only a proportion of students in academic high schools, which is not available at all in most vocational high schools.
Teenage girls are under increasing pressure to have sex. In an in-depth interview, one respondent from Medan explained how her relationship ended in pregnancy. According to this girl, who I will call Noni, it started with kisses, which she said her boyfriend expected as proof of her love. On the next date, he wanted sex. Noni was afraid of falling pregnant, but her boyfriend calmed her fears by explaining that she couldn’t get pregnant if he ‘shot it outside’— tembak luar is the Indonesian expression for withdrawal.
Noni is deeply ashamed because she’s not a virgin anymore, but she’s still at school, because she didn’t get pregnant. Things were much worse for Eti (see box next page). Eti’s family was so ashamed when they found out she was pregnant that they wanted to marry her off as soon as possible. The problem was, Eti’s boyfriend was not prepared to be ‘responsible’. So Eti faced a much harder choice. She could have an abortion and continue school, or become a single parent and drop out.
Teenage pregnancy leaves girls with few choices. It means a quick abortion or a shot-gun wedding for the expectant mother and deep embarrassment for the family. Abortion is a risky business in Indonesia. Although some legal provision is made in situations where the mother’s life is in danger, most teenage girls who want an abortion are forced to go to a dukun. The cost of an abortion varies considerably. Doctors, who are very reluctant to perform abortions, charge up to Rp 1,000,000 ($A200). Dukun, who do not use anaesthetics for the procedure, charge Rp 500,000 or less.
Kicked out of school
Pregnancy also has lasting implications for girls’ opportunities to continue their education. Legally, schools cannot discriminate against expectant mothers. In practice, however, pregnancy inevitably means expulsion from school. Schools and school teachers can’t accept that students are involved in what they see as ‘immoral behaviour’, and view pregnancy as a problem with the student concerned, which must be ‘solved’ as quickly as possible. Take the case of Nina. Nina had already married under pressure from her parents after she fell pregnant. On the first day of her final exams, a supervisor told her to leave the examination room. She was told she was not fit to be a student.
In North Sumatra, pregnant students can take a special examination run by the provincial Education Office, but all costs associated with the examination must be borne by the student’s family. The official fee for this examination is between Rp 50,000 and Rp 100,000 (between A$10 and A$20), but anecdotal evidence suggests that bribes up to A$160 are sometimes paid before results are released. Few students or their families are aware of this option—even if they could afford it. Students can also move to another school, but if this fails, they are forced to drop out. School-age fathers experience much less discrimination. As a teacher once told me, ‘it’s not the boy who is pregnant, so there’s no problem if they want to continue their schooling’.
A way forward
Students should be taught about safe and responsible sex. Although the Department of Education has developed a program for schools, to date, it has not been implemented because of community and teacher resistance. Nor is sexual development and sexual behaviour dealt with in subjects such as Biology, Religion or Physical ducation.
In an attempt to fill the gap, the Centre for the Study and the Protection of Children (PKPA) has run education courses on sexuality and reproduction for high school students in Medan, Langkat and Deli Serdang since 2000. In 2001, it established the Centre for Information on Reproductive Health and Gender (PIKIR) as a further step in meeting the needs of those communities. PIKIR now runs courses for students and teachers in 10 senior high schools, provides individual counselling and has a slot on 3 radio stations as well as a column in a local newspaper. Over 5,000 students participated in PIKIR’s programs between 2000 and 2002. PIKIR has also published a series of information leaflets about reproductive health, sexually-transmitted diseases, HIV/ AIDS, sexuality, and women’s rights and a booklet for students and peer educators. It has also recently run workshops and seminars on national initiatives in reproductive health education.
Rosmalinda coordinates PIKIR, the Centre for Information on Reproductive Health and Gender, which is partially funded by AusAid. She can be contacted at email@example.com