Indonesia: Woman persecuted for 'shame' of being raped and pregnant

Amnesty International

Rhaya is a 19-year-old from a poor family in Sumatra. She stopped school when she was 16, deciding to look for work as a domestic worker. Rhaya washed clothes in different houses while living at her sister Enny’s house. Enny, is the fourth wife of Abang Setia, with whom she has a young child. About three months after Rhaya started living at her sister's house, Rhaya was raped by Abang Setia. After he had raped her, Abang Setia told her not to tell anyone what had happened or she would be killed. 

Three days later, Rhaya returned to her parents’ house, not telling anyone what had happened. But six months later, when her pregnancy was obvious, she told her parents and her sister. 

Rhaya’s father reported the rape to the police, and Rhaya received some support, including from civil society organizations. 

But when people in Rhaya’s village learned she was pregnant as a result of rape, the people, including the head of village, said that they could not welcome her condition. Being pregnant without a husband, they said, would bring ‘Aib’ – shame – to the village. 

Rhaya’s father, wanting to protect his daughter, decided to move house, relocating far away so that Rhaya would feel safe from the villagers’ intimidation. They eventually found a new place and waited for the baby to be born. But their new house was not comfortable. It had no windows and no ventilation and they had to use old boxes to sleep on. 

Three months after they arrived at their new home, the people in their new village learned that Rhaya was pregnant without a husband, and that her pregnancy was the result of rape. As the local pressure mounted, their landlord asked them to leave.  

Rhaya’s parents, alarmed by the new turn of events just before she was due to give birth, desperately began looking for options. Fortunately, a representative from a civil society organization brought her case to the attention of a government crisis centre to help her arrange free medical care from the local general hospital. 

Initially, there were problems because Rhaya had moved to the new village and did not have a local ID. However, in the end, Rhaya was able to get the care she needed and gave birth to a healthy baby girl by Caesarean section. Her baby was soon adopted. 

Rhaya is now trying to rebuild her life and is considering the offer of another job as a domestic worker.

Amnesty International's work on sexual and reproductive health is part of its Demand Dignity campaign, calling for an end to the human rights violations that drive and deepen poverty. The campaign mobilizes people all over the world to demand that governments, corporations and others who have power listen to the voices of those living in poverty and recognize and protect their rights.

4 November 2010