Indonesia: Report on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or Female Genital Cutting (FGC)

Released by the Office of the Senior Coordinator for International Women's Issues

Type I (commonly referred to as clitoridectomy) and less invasive procedures (Type IV) are the forms of female genital mutilation (FGM) or female genital cutting (FGC) practiced in Indonesia. The practice is generally referred to as female circumcision in Indonesia. It occurs in parts of East, Central and West Java, North Sumatra, Aceh, South Sulawesi and on Madura Island, as well as in many other parts of the archipelago.

There are no statistics on this practice in Indonesia. However, a study conducted in Jakarta and West Java, found most female children who were circumcised underwent ritualistic, largely non-invasive procedures.

The University of Indonesia's Women's Research Graduate Program conducted this study in October 1998. It surveyed 200 mothers, 100 living in an urban community in Jakarta and 100 living in a rural area in West Java.

According to the study, of 100 mothers in the Kemayoran community in Jakarta, 97 percent of their female children had been circumcised. Trained midwives or physicians circumcised the baby girls using a blood lancet or sewing needle to prick the clitoris until bleeding occurred. However, some midwives merely wiped the clitoris with alcohol and bethadine. This procedure took place when the girl was 40 days to five years old.

The 100 mothers surveyed from the rural West Java community of Cijeruk said 100 percent of their female children had been circumcised. Traditional birth attendants (TBAs) performed the procedure using small scissors, a razor blade or even a small piece of sharpened bamboo. The TBAs cut a small piece of the prepuce (clitoral hood) or the clitoris itself until bleeding occurred. This procedure was performed when the baby was about 40 days old.

It is a common practice among Muslim families from the Banten ethnic group in West Java, where it is largely a symbolic procedure. The practice is ceremonial, during which the clitoris of the baby or young girl is scraped or touched, often with the purpose of drawing several drops of blood. Sometimes a plant root is used symbolically and the girl is not touched at all.

These procedures usually take place within the first year, often on day 36 or 40 after birth, depending on local traditions. In some areas, however, it is performed on girls up to ten years of age. On Madura, the practice usually occurs when the baby girl is six months old.

The type of procedure performed in Indonesia, if any, is usually left to the discretion of local traditional practitioners who rely on local traditions. The procedure is often performed in a hospital in urban areas. Because procedures are largely symbolic, the incidence of complications is believed to be low.

Attitudes and Beliefs:
According to the study, Kemayoran community women in Jakarta believe that the practice is mandated or recommended by Islam. The more educated mothers believe the practice is "sunnah" (recommended or encouraged by the prophet Muhammad). The less educated mothers believe the practice is "wajib" (mandatory).

The rural mothers of the West Java community of Cijeruk said the procedure was performed according to sunnah and was meant to purify female babies. It was also regarded as a local custom and believed to promote good hygiene.

Some religious leaders believe that the removal or partial removal of the clitoris is beneficial to marriage because a woman would be more likely to remain faithful to her husband if she had no sexual drive. Some religious Islamic leaders consider this practice a mandate of Islam. Other religious leaders believe that this practice is recommended by Islamic teachings but not mandated.

Type I:
Type I is the excision (removal) of the clitoral hood with or without removal of all or part of the clitoris.

This procedure occurs on Madura Island, South Sulawesi and parts of East Java and Sumatra. Although there is disagreement over the prevalence of this practice, it appears to be on the decline.

Type IV:
Type IV includes the pricking, piercing or incision of the clitoris and/or labia. It also includes the scraping of the vaginal orifice or cutting of the vagina.
Various forms are practiced in different parts of Indonesia, especially where Muslim populations predominate. The method employed depends on ethnic, cultural and religious traditions.

Outreach Activities:
The government included this practice as a gender issue in its National Action Plan to End Violence against Women, published in November 2000. This Plan commits the Ministry of Women's Empowerment and the Ministry of Religion to conduct research on religious teachings that impede women's rights. FGM/FGC heads the Action Plan's list of religious teachings requiring investigation and modification. The Government, the National Ulemas Council, religious leaders, women's groups and health practitioners are to develop guidelines for health practitioners and midwives on non-invasive techniques for this practice. An awareness campaign is planned.
Currently public awareness of this practice is low. The subject is not discussed in schools and rarely in the media. In 2000 an article on a ritualistic FGM/FGC ceremony in West Java did appear in an English language newspaper.

The National Ulemas Council supports eliminating female circumcision in stages. For now, it will support ritualistic, non-invasive forms of this practice. It has agreed under the Action Plan, to participate in joint efforts to develop guidelines for health practitioners and midwives on non-invasive female circumcision techniques.

Two women's rights groups are addressing FGM/FGC issues. These are the Convention Watch and the Indonesian Women's Coalition for Justice and Democracy. They believe that projects combining further study of this practice and an awareness campaign of this issue, especially directed at regions where invasive procedures are reported to occur, would help end this harmful practice. Convention Watch is currently working on a proposal for this.

The Convention Watch working group has also expressed interest in researching the prevalence and types of FGM/FGC that occur in Indonesia. They would like to extend the University of Indonesia's 1998 study to other regions in Indonesia, including Madura Island, West Sumatra and South Sulawesi.

Legal Status:
There is no national law against FGM/FGC in Indonesia. Customary law permits symbolic and small-cut incisions of the clitoris.

Since this practice usually takes place when the child is very young, the issue of protection does not arise.

Prepared by the Office of the Senior Coordinator for International Women's Issues, Office of the Under Secretary for Global Affairs, June 2001.

Released on June 1, 2001


This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.