The proposed revised draft for the Indonesian Criminal Code (RKUHP) has been heavily criticized for discriminating against certain groups, including young people. The policymakers, confused by their strong intention to protect citizens, have gone overboard and ended up violating the reproductive health rights of the youth instead -- or 26 percent of the population of 260 million. 

With a population growth rate of 1.49 percent per year, Indonesia’s population will reach 450 million by 2045. Ranked 108th out of 187 in the Human Development Index, Indonesia needs to strategize on how to improve human development outcomes in its early stages. Essential to this is reproductive health, which profoundly affects both men and women’s overall health from infancy to old age. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, reproductive health addresses the reproductive processes, functions and system at all stages of life. Clearly our current reproductive health situation requires a huge improvement.

The 2013 Basic Health Research revealed that among Indonesian women aged 10 to 54, 2.6 percent of them got married for the first time before they reached the age of 15. Meanwhile, 23.9 percent of them were married between 15 and 19, making them vulnerable to health risks, dangerous pregnancies and childbirth complications. 

The National Family Planning Agency reports that around 27 percent of Indonesian adolescents have dated before they reach 15. Among male adolescents, 25 percent admitted to using condoms during their first sexual experience. 

Through that report, evidently reproductive health education can no longer be considered taboo. This has been recognized by youth-led initiatives that have long converted their concerns about reproductive health into action.

An example of a youth-led initiative on health is Pencerah Nusantara (Lights of the Archipelago). Teams of young health enthusiasts collaborate with local primary healthcare centers, where their activities include reviving school-based health units and offering reproductive health training to its members, mostly the schools’ students who become peer educators for fellow schoolmates.

Educating society is also the spirit of the Center for Indonesian Medical Students Association (CIMSA), a non-profit organization run by full-time medical students at 23 universities. Through its various projects, CIMSA offers reproductive health education to local communities.

Another group, the Aliansi Remaja Independen (Independent Youth Alliance), envisions the fulfillment of the rights of Indonesian youth, including the right to reproductive health. They provide health and sex education to communities of young women in rural areas in Indonesia to prepare them for life after marriage and pregnancy.

Those initiatives are among many youth-led initiatives that demonstrate that defending the right to reproductive health is everyone’s responsibility, including their own peers. 

Peer-to-peer approach was deemed effective in improving health awareness among adolescents as found in a study by Robert W. Blum from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. 

It is a puzzle why a proven effective approach involving youth, who are not professional health workers, would be disregarded by policymakers in a country that desperately needs to improve its reproductive health situation. 

In the latest available draft of the revised Criminal Code, dissemination of information on contraceptive use is restricted to authorized health professionals. The draft does not reflect the reality in Indonesia where health cadres are usually teachers, local public figures, religious leaders, local activists, even stay-at-home mothers and youth leaders.

Community engagement has long been Indonesia’s backbone in its development efforts, even more so in health. Law No. 36/2009 on health even emphasizes that health efforts are the responsibility of the government and community alike. 

Indonesia’s vast geographical setting and its critical shortage of healthcare professionals make it clear that relying only on government-authorized professionals will decrease accessibility to reproductive health, creating further inequalities. 

Even worse, it could potentially criminalize our friends, families and neighbors who face a fine of up to Rp 10 million or one year in jail for wanting to help others create better lives. 

The draft amendment of the Criminal Code presents the perspective of a specific group in a discriminatory manner. In fact, reproductive health, just like any other health-related challenges, needs to be addressed by everyone, not just those with professional backgrounds. 

If the Criminal Code ever takes effect, people, civil society organizations and young health cadres could be punished for doing something inspiring. It would also further limit the distribution of crucial information to rural and remote areas, with the alarming impact of raising the number of early marriages and unplanned pregnancies. When this happens who would be the one to blame? 

It is not too late. With the good will of policymakers and a realization of the negative impact that the draft revised Criminal Code would have on a vast population of Indonesian youth, the government needs to provide space for their meaningful participation in public health measures. Removing discriminatory clauses from the draft revised Criminal Code would create a significant step towards a healthier and more equal current and future generation. 

The article has been published on The Jakarta Post, April 4th, 2018

Yeyen Yenuarizki is a communication specialist focusing on health development and youth and Anindita Sitepu is a health psychologist. Both serve at the Center for Indonesia’s Strategic Development Initiatives (CISDI).

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