Newly-appointed Health Minister Nafsiah Mboy posteda video to YouTube on Tuesday explaining the ministry's plan to promote condom use among teenagers and other at-risk groups after Indonesia's conservative organizations rallied against the campaign.
"We know that some groups engage in risky sexual relations," the health minister said in her video-taped response. "They should be counseled to change their lifestyle, but if they continue to do it, we can only advise them to use condoms.
"This is very important. Ignorance of this will lead to unwanted pregnancies and [the spread of] HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases."
Indonesia has one of the fastest growing HIV/AIDS epidemics rate in Asia, according to United Nations figures. More than three-quarters of the nation's HIV/AIDS cases result from unprotected sex, according to AIDS Prevention Commission (KPA) figures.
Statistics on teen pregnancy in Indonesia are hard to pin down. A study conducted by the Child Protection Commission (KPAI) claimed that 21.2 percent of girls between the ages of 14 and 18 have had at least one abortion. The commission — which recently called on the government to curb condom sales to minors — found that 62.7 percent of teenagers ages 14 to 18 have had sex.
The Health Ministry's campaign will focus on sexually-active high school- and college-aged Indonesians.
“The campaign will target the young generation at the ages between 15 to 24 years old,” Nafsiah said. “The law said that those who are not married should not be given contraception. But our analysis shows that such regulation is dangerous and ignores reality.”
But the nation's conservative organizations have taken exception to the Health Ministry's campaign, claiming that promoting condom use is the same as promoting pre-marital sex.
“I'm very disappointed,” Tuti Alawiyah, former Women's Empowerment minster and current head of the Islamic Propagation Coordination Forum (BMKT) told Antara. “I think such plan would not be supported by any religion because it supports pre-marital sex.”
Tuti said there were more effective ways to curb HIV/AIDS transmission than condom use.
“Keep the disease away with preventive action by improving the nation's morality,” she said. “There are so many ways to prevent and curb HIV transmission, positive ways that do not follow Western style.”
Khofifah Indar Parawansa, head of the women's division of the Nadhlatul Ulama, said that while abortion rates among teenage girls are high, the issue should be addressed with religion, not contraceptives.
“Such problem should not be addressed by distributing condom to our teenagers,” she said. “There should be a serious effort [to teach] our children faith and obedience.”
The Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) weighed in on the controversy as well, calling Nafsiah a "liberal minister" who supported adultery.
“This campaign is wrong, it is an adultery campaign for teenagers,” said Rizieq Shihab, head of the FPI. “The right and blessed solution to prevent AIDS and unwanted pregnancies is to stop adultery, stop prostitution, stop free sex, stop sodomy, stop homosexuality, lesbianism and all sex deviations.”
Rizieq also claimed that condom use does not prevent the transmission of the HIV virus, explaining that the virus was smaller than the condom's pores.
According to a large body of scientific tests and the World Health Organization, condoms are 80 percent effective at preventing the transmission of HIV.
The US National Institutes of Heath examined latex condoms under x2,000 magnification and found no pores. Under that level of magnification, a strand of hair looks like it is made of large fish scales.
The Consumers Union took the study a step further and looked at latex condoms under x30,000 magnification and still found no pores. At 30,000 times magnification you can actually view the HIV virus.
Nafsiah on Wednesday said that she would be happy to discuss her plan with critics.
“I'll be please to meet them,” she said.
She said that it is a fact that Indonesian teenagers were committed to risky sexual behavior.
“I think our children deserve better information, and deserve better religious education,” Nafsiah said.