Aceh: women under curfew, ostensibly to curb sexual violence
by Mathias Hariyadi
In a province with special status ruled by Sharia, women are no longer allowed to leave home after 11pm unaccompanied by husbands or male relatives. The authorities act out of concern for the rise of sexual violence in the last two years. Indonesia’s vice president calls for changes to the law.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Aceh provincial authorities adopted on 4 June a law to enforce a nighttime curfew for women.

Under the new legislation, women unaccompanied by their husbands or a male relative will no longer be able to leave their home after 11 pm. However, the authorities do not plan to go beyond issuing a warning to the women who break the rule.

Located in Sumatra Island, Aceh province is one of the most religious parts of Indonesia. In its capital of Banda Aceh, Mayor Illiza Sa'adudin Djamal said that the new law is designed to protect female workers and ensure that young women do not stay out late into the night.

The goal is to curb sexual violence against women, which has been rising according to the research by two independent foundations. In 2013, figures indicate 42 cases of sexual violence in the province, including rape. This rose to 52 in 2014. Most victims were women, aged 6 to 18 in 2013, and 26 to 40 in 2014.

The law reflects the fact that Sharia (Islamic law) regulates the hours of the day. In view of this, Ms Djamal hopes that “the implementation of Sharia in Banda Aceh will find support and that this case will not be blown out of proportion in the media.”

Many Aceh residents are particularly concerned by young people, especially young women, staying out at night. Under a peace deal worked out between the central government and Free Aceh Movement (GAM), the province is ruled by Sharia.

Muslim leader Ustad Masrul Hadi has backed the province’s stance, saying that the law is Islamic in spirit. In his view, people must "return to the principles of God’s teachings, which require working during the day and resting at night."

However, not everyone is convinced. Vice President Jusuf Kalla urged the mayor of Banda Aceh to reconsider enforcing the rule, wondering where there was any real urgency to act.

By contrast, Home Affairs Minister Tjaho Kumolo backs the mayor, noting the Aceh is a province with special status and has the right to enact its own laws.

"Only women who are alone in public will be reprimanded. Female health care workers will continue to be able to work at night."