INDONESIA: Condom controversy continues

Photo: Courtesy of the Global Fund
Sex workers 26 years old Melly (L) and 29 years old Rizki (R) at an entertainment outlet in a red light district in Cibitung near Jakarta
JAKARTA, 20 July 2012 (PlusNews) - Rizki, 29, is wooing passers-by outside a bar in a red-light district near Jakarta, the Indonesian capital. In her five years as a commercial sex worker she has always urged clients to use a condom to avoid HIV infection. "About 70 percent of my customers use condoms," she said. "Some men get angry when I ask, but most comply."

HIV is spreading more quickly than before, but the government’s campaign to promote condom usage among people at high risk of infection has once again been criticized by religious groups. Social stigma and sexual taboos are major obstacles in fighting HIV/AIDS in Indonesia, which has the world's largest Muslim population.

"If members of society engage in risky sex, we need to give them religious and reproductive health education," Health Minister Nafsiah Mboi said in a YouTube video posted online on 19 June. "But if they still do it, what we can do is urge them to use condoms to reduce the risks."

Prevalence is at only 0.2 percent of the country’s 238 million people, but the number of new HIV infections had risen sharply from 7,195 in 2006 to 21,031 in 2011, the latest health ministry report notes.

Since 2006, the government’s "100 percent condom use" approach has routinely come under fire, and in some areas has faced explicit hostility to discussion of the topic in the context of commercial sex work. Mboi was summoned to parliament on 25 June after her condom message sparked accusations by conservative Muslim groups that she was promoting promiscuity.

The Health Ministry estimates that 200,000 people were infected with HIV and 6.4 million people were at risk. In most provinces, HIV is largely concentrated among people with high-risk behaviour, but there are a rising number of infections among mothers and children, according to the National AIDS Commission. 

More than 75 percent of new infections occur in heterosexual people - up from 38.5 percent in June 2006 - while 16.3 percent occur among injecting drug users and 2.2 percent among men who had sex with men.

In May the deputy chair of the Indonesian Child Protection Agency, Asrorun Ni’am Sholeh, urged the government to restrict sales of condoms to prevent access by teenagers. “There were reports that youngsters as young as 13 bought condoms from the neighbourhood convenience stores - I don’t think those teenagers bought condoms for their parents," Sholeh said. "Pre-marital sex among adults should not be allowed, let alone among children."

Amidhan Saberah, the chairman of the Indonesian Council of Muslim Scholars, said condom promotion should only be targeted at married couples. "The availability of condoms can encourage young people to engage in promiscuity," he said. "This is dangerous."

Despite the opposition of conservative groups, condom sales have increased from 95 million in 2006 to 195 million in 2011.

''Growing religious conservatism in recent years means that some red-light districts have been closed, but unregulated [sex work] is rampant]''
"A few years ago, my office was frequently demonstrated against by those who accused us of promoting promiscuity because we promoted the use of condoms," Mboi said in early June, when she was still secretary of the National AIDS Commission.

"Growing religious conservatism in recent years means that some red-light districts have been closed, but unregulated [sex work] is rampant - there's [sex work] in every harbour in the sprawling archipelago," she added.

Since 2004, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has disbursed close to US$400 million to Indonesia. Although some provinces have started funding their own programmes, there are worries that developed countries might reduce aid to middle-income countries like Indonesia during the current economic crisis, which could undo the progress made.

Mboi said the Global Fund's contribution was vital in helping Indonesia fight HIV. "If the funding is stopped now, I think it will be a disaster for some areas."


Theme (s): Aid Policy, Children, Education, HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), Prevention - PlusNews, Stigma/Human Rights/Law - PlusNews,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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