After sex abuse scandal rocks Islamic boarding school in Aceh, female students required to wear face veils

In mid-July, the male head of a pesantren (Islamic boarding school) in the ultraconservative province of Aceh, as well as one of the school’s male teachers, were arrested by police for allegedly sexually assaulting 15 of the school’s male students.

News of the arrests caused a massive scandal for the An-Nahlu pesantren, which had been located in the city of Lhokseumawe’s Panggoi Village, leading to officials temporarily closing the school and moving it to another location. This week, the pesantren’s male and female students began attending classes again but, in addition to the change in venue, female students are now required to wear a cadar (face veil) at all times while on the pesantren’s grounds as part of their uniform.

Out of the 137 students who re-enrolled in the school following its move, 50 are female students. The new head of the school, Tengku Sulaiman Daud, said that the new rule involving the cadar was an expansion on a previous requirement. 

“In the past, female santri (pesantren students) were also required to wear a veil, but only while class was taking place. But now it is mandatory to wear the veil while on the pesantren’s grounds,” Sulaiman said on Sunday as quoted by Tribun.  

Sulaiman did not explicitly connect the decision to require female students to wear the veil at all times with the pesatren’s recent sex abuse scandal. According to Tribun, he said the purpose of the rule change was to help students learn how to cover up their aurat (parts of the body that should be covered in Islam for the sake of modesty) more perfectly.

However, one could easily infer that the dress code change was made in order to prevent such a scandal from taking place again. For example, Reddit user ‘sia_fuhrer’ shared an article about the school’s new face veil rule to the r/Indonesia subreddit with the headline ”Aceh be like ‘guys we did it! we have found a way to prevent sexual harassment’” (also hat tip to them for helping us find the story).  

Related: ‘Men must care’: Indonesia Ulema Council backs survey that says women get sexually harassed regardless of their clothing

Some have also questioned the way that police in Aceh have handled the sexual assault charges against the former school head and teacher.

As pointed out by New Naratif editor Aisyah Llewellyn in a much-retweeted thread discussing the case, the two men were not charged with child rape under Indonesia’ national child protection laws but instead were charged with violating sharia law (Aceh being the only province in Indonesia with special autonomy to enact the Islamic legal system), specifically a statute related to zina or sex outside of marriage. As Llewellyn notes, this could mean the suspects could face corporal punishment but also a far shorter prison sentence than they would have if they had been charged under national law.

 


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