In your own way

Why (Chemical) Castration Will Not End Gender and Sexuality Based Violence in Indonesia

Priliantina Bebasari*

While the international media were busy highlighting the Stanford rape and Brazil gang-rape cases, another gang-rape, followed by murder, of a 14 year-old girl named Yuyun has also happened in Indonesia. Despite a lack of international media attention, this is an atrocity as severe as the incidents that the media has been highlighting recently. One case in Indonesia, in particular, has attracted the public attention, which led to the National Commission on the Anti Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) calling for “emergency status of sexual violence”. Despite so, discrimination against women and the marginalised groups continues to exist.

As a result of public pressure, on 25 May 2016, Indonesian President Joko Widodo signed a ‘Government’s Regulation as Replacement of Law No. 1 of 2016 about Second Changes on Law No. 23 of 2002 about Children’s Protection’. In short, people now refer to it as the ‘castration law’ (Perppu Kebiri). Under this law, child sex offenders will receive chemical castration treatment as part of their punishment. Some people have supported it because they are concerned with emerging cases of gender and sexual-based violence. However, having studied and researched about violence using a gender analysis in the development context, I stand with Komnas Perempuan in terms of not agreeing with this law. Here are the reasons why:

Its deterrence effect is questionable, let alone its rehabilitation, protection and retribution effect

I believe any punitive action should incorporate these four effects. Supporters of the castration law only focus on the deterrence effect while it is still problematic. The deterrence effect could only work if the law can be implemented in the right manner in the first place. In Indonesia, it is well-known that law officers can be bribed. We can see many cases of corruption, for example, the convicted who are mostly rich and powerful people only get away from court or only get limited jail sentences. In the case of India’s Rape Case, one of the perpetrators confessed in the documentary movie India’s Daughter (2015) that because he knows he would get a death sentence if he gets caught (as punishment), he would just kill the victim immediately so that the victim cannot report to the police. It shows that rather than be scared about the punishment; the perpetrators are more concerned about whether they get caught. While the perpetrators of Yuyun case have been caught, in a community where police and law officers can be easily bribed and victim-blaming or anybody-else-beside-the-perpetrators-blaming are prominent, I’m afraid that this law won’t work.

Other aspects of this law are dodgy as well. In terms of the retribution effect, I don’t think a castration that only works for 4 months can bring justice to the deceased victim and the family who lost their girl. The law also doesn’t provide rehabilitation to the perpetrators because it only changes their genitalia functions, temporarily, but not their mindset. Rape and sexual attacks can also use other body parts or objects as tools.Targeting a certain private part wouldn’t provide any protection at all in the long run.

It doesn’t solve the core problem: patriarchy

Patriarchy is a social structure or social organisational system where males dominate over women (Edström and Shahrokh, 2016). It materialises into at least four dimensions: male-centeredness, male privilege/dominance, male supremacy/identification, and male order/obsession to control (Edström, 2015; Johnson, 2014). Patriarchy has been so embedded in Indonesian society that so many people refuse to blame the perpetrators, including Minister of Women’s Empowerment and Children Protection Yohana Yembisa who blamed the parents’ victims or current member of Parliaments Tifatul Sembiring, who blamed alcohol. Although the law targets the perpetrators, in a society where male dominance is seen as normal, it is highly possible that the perpetrators can get away from law anyway.

Understanding how patriarchy works on so many levels should make us aware that sexual violence is not about sexual desire.Sexuality and gender-based violence is an assertion and execution, of power to achieve masculinity while degrading the victim. The castration law, on the other hand, treats both sexuality and gender-based violence as merely sexual desires. It doesn’t aim to debunk the patriarchy in social structures which embodies the problematic mindset about non-male roles.

In order to change the patriarchal mindset, we must first make them aware of their human ability to use their heart and logic to decide on an action. While the castration law treat humans like pets that can be ‘fixed’ through neutralisation, it doesn’t bring back the humanity of the perpetrators. Moreover, the literature on men’s engagement initiatives for gender justice has shown some evidence that stereotyping males as perpetrators and women as victims will not achieve gender equality goals (Edström and Shahrokh, 2016). We must engage in partnerships with men to make them concerned and aware of gender inequality problems that may affect them as well. The castration law assumes males as perpetrators, because it targets male genitalia, thus the law could potentially hamper the movement towards gender justice.

Another more comprehensive law is being drafted

The castration law only applies for child sex offenders, so it doesn’t even attempt to solve rape or sexual violence for adults, or even gender and sexuality-based violence in general. Then again, there is another more comprehensive law being drafted currently. The Komnas Perempuan is now trying to bring about more concerted discussions on Anti Sexual Violence Bill (RUU Kekerasan Seksual). The draft comprises of the definitions on who the perpetrators are and fifteen types of sexual violence (not only rape), therefore it also addresses sexual violence on male and female adults as well as gender minorities. This bill draft includes clauses on protection of the victims and witnesses, as well as restitution of the victims,punishment, and rehabilitation of the perpetrators.In my opinion, the Sexual Violence Bill draft is more comprehensive as it includes all aspects of punishment I mentioned earlier.

In conclusion, as much as I’m concerned with the sexuality and gender-based violence cases in my country, I hope people can be more critical. We must think the unthinkable and listen to other perspectives, including those of the marginalised or even the perpetrators. Only by that can we comprehend the problems and achieve the best solution. The danger, otherwise, is that we may perpetuate the patriarchy that becomes the root of all problems.


*Priliantina Bebasari is an Indonesian Endowment Funds for Education (LPDP) scholar currently studying MA Gender and Development at Institute of Development Studies in the UK. Her research interests include women economic empowerment, citizens-government engagement, social innovation, engaging men and boys in gender equality movement in the Indonesian context. 



Edström J. (2015) ‘Undressing patriarchy in the male order development encounter’, in Flood, M. and R. Howson (eds.) Engaging Men in Building Gender Equality. Newcastle-Upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp. 71-84.

Edström, J. and Shahrokh, T (2016) ‘Reframing Men and Boys in Policy for Gender Equality: Conceptual Guidance and an Agenda for Change’. EMERGE Framing Paper. Promundo-US, Sonke Gender Justice and the Institute of Development Studies. Brighton: IDS.

India’s Daughter (2015) Directed byLesleeUdwin [Film]. UK: BBC Storyville.

Johnson, A.G. (2014)The Gender Knot: Unravelling Our Patriarchal Legacy. 3rd ed. Temple University Press: Philadelphia.


Feature Photo: Google Images



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