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Abortion reaches 'alarming' levels in Indonesia

The Straits Times, 26 oct 2000

Three million women -- many unmarried -- had abortions last year. Ignorance of contraception is one reason, says a family-planning group.

JAKARTA -- Abortion is on the rise in Indonesia, especially among unmarried women, and has now reached an alarming level, a family-planning group has said.

Data collected by Indonesian Family Planning Association (PKBI) shows that three million Indonesian women had abortions last year.

Of that number, 600,000 were unmarried, the Indonesian Observer reported yesterday.

PKBI head Azrul Azwar said on Tuesday that the high number of abortions was due partly to a lack of knowledge about contraception.

He said the prevalence of terminated pregnancies had also been attributed to social traditions, especially in West Java, where many people felt that if a woman had not managed to find a husband by the age of 20, "she is not beautiful or sexy enough to attract young men".

In order to boost their chance of getting a husband, many young women would consent to have sex with a man, hoping that he would marry them, he said.

But all too often, the women fell pregnant and were dumped by the men.

With the intrusion of lax Western moral standards through films and the Internet, the government feared that the incidence of casual sex would increase next year, and thus the number of abortions would also rise.

But the Education Ministry's head of quality human development, Mr Soeharto, is optimistic that sex education, and lessons on religion and morality, will enable the government to reduce the level of abortion.

Minister of Health and Social Welfare Achmad Sujudi called for government regulation, saying abortions contributed significantly to the mortality rate in the country.

"We can't close our eyes to the high mortality rate here even though abortion is illegal," he said while addressing the opening of a discussion on abortion.

While admitting that it was a highly volatile issue, the minister said abortion should be "legalised" in instances such as rape or incest, and to save women's lives.

Mr Sujudi said the mortality rate in Indonesia had been consistently between 300 and 400 deaths per 100,000 births annually, which is 10 times higher than in developed countries.

"Unsafe abortions contributed to the deaths," he said, without elaborating.

Meanwhile, the latest study by the Indonesian Society of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (POGI), the World Health Organisation and Indonesia's Ministry of Health revealed that there were an estimated 2.3 million abortions performed each year in Indonesia.

Most of the abortions were unsafe, resulting in a death rate of between 35 per cent and 50 per cent.

The study estimated that out of the 2.3 million abortions, some 600,000 cases involved unwanted pregnancies due to contraceptive failure, 700,000 cases due to poor economic conditions and one million were miscarriages.

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