By Robert Yates

Following a string of high profile cases involving sexual abuse in schools, the Indonesian government announced on Monday that sex education will soon become a fixed part of the national curriculum.

“We will introduce the topic of reproductive health in all grades, from early childhood education programs to high schools,” said Erman Syamsuddin, from the Ministry of Education and Culture, quoted by Antara news agency.

The announcement comes after several months of police investigations and arrests that have sparked public outcry and concern. In April, janitors at the prestigious Jakarta International School were detained for allegedly abusing a six-year old pupil. News of the case spread further when the FBI announced that suspected child predator, William James Vahey, had also once taught there.

On May 4, police had reports of at least 52 children allegedly abused by Andri Sobari, a factory worker in Sukabumi, West Java. The suspected number of victims rose to over 100 in the following week. On May 13, Bogor Police arrested an elementary school teacher, Muhammad Kosim, on suspicion of sexually assaulting nine children.

Police figures show that reported child sex crimes so far this year are not unprecedentedly high, with 102 known cases by mid-May compared to a total of 980 throughout 2013. Nevertheless, the wide media coverage and quick succession of recent investigations have spurred ministers to speak out in the face of public worry.

On 8 May, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono made the vague announcement of a “national movement to prevent and eradicate sexual abuse towards children”. The Sukabumi Health Office, in the wake of the West Java scandal, proposed more specific measures, saying it would be putting together a sex education program for younger children. The Sukabumi case also heralded in the sharing through social media of an educational guide on sexual violence created by the Council of Europe.

Sexual health has proved a divisive issue in Indonesia. Two years ago, Education and Culture Minister, Mohammad Nuh, rejected several groups’ demands for proper sex education in schools, arguing it would promote indecency. Dr Nafsiah Mboi, appointed Health Minister in 2012, had to rein in attempts to promote condom use after they met with opposition from conservative groups. For many, the government’s announcement of sex education as part of a national curriculum is long overdue.

Recent abuse cases have also resulted in calls for heavier retribution. Mboi made international news last week when she proposed chemical castration for paedophiles, a procedure currently sanctioned in only a small group of nations including South Korea, Poland and Russia. Dissatisfaction with the current 2002 Child Protection Law has also been voiced. In the face of Jakarta-based demonstrations on Monday, as well as wider public pressure, the government announced they would be seeking to introduce a dramatic legislative shift, placing the minimum sentence for child sex offences at the current maximum of 15 years. Punitive measures, more so perhaps than educational reform, seem to have chimed with public anger.