By Benjamin Omoike
An Islamic boarding school teacher, who was found guilty of having unlawful carnal knowledge of 13 students and impregnating nine of them in Indonesia, has been sentenced to life imprisonment.
The judge said that teacher, Herry Wirawan, had sexually groomed the 13 girls, who were between 12 and 16 years old, and impregnated at least nine of his victims, some of whom suffered injuries from the rape.
‘Wirawan was proven guilty of the crimes of purposely committing violence, forcing intercourse on more than one victim repeatedly,’ Judge Yohannes Purnomo Suryo Adi told the court in the city of Bandung in West Java.
Wirawan pleaded guilty and apologised to his victims and their families during the trial. His lawyer, Ira Mambo, said he would speak to his client about whether to appeal the verdict.
The teacher was accused of raping at least 13 students between the ages of 11 and 14 from 2016 to 2021 at the school, in hotel rooms or at rented apartments, according to the indictment.
At least nine babies reportedly were born as the result of the rapes. Indonesian officials, including the country’s child protection minister, backed calls for the death penalty, though the country’s human rights commission, which opposes the death penalty, said it was not appropriate.
Wirawan arrived in court in handcuffs and kept his head down as the judge sentenced him. The court said restitution for the victims will be paid by the government.
The chairman of Indonesia’s Child Protection Commission said Tuesday’s verdict meant ‘justice for the victims has been served’.
But a family member of one of the victims told AFP news agency he was ‘very disappointed’ that Wirawan did not receive a harsher sentence and warned that leniency would embolden other abusers.
‘This wound will never be healed as long as we live, maybe until we die. The pain we are feeling is indescribable. We don’t feel heard,’ said Hidmat Dijaya, an uncle of one of the 13 victims.
‘If the sentence is lenient like this, there will be more Islamic teachers who will abuse children,’ he added.
‘We will let God, as the highest judge, punish him. We can only pray because those judges failed to represent our hurt and pain.’
Dedeh Marlina, a 42 year-old housewife living near the school where Herry taught, said she was relieved the perpetrator had been stopped but that the damage had been done.
‘I know most of them came from poor families in remote areas…unfortunately they are now carrying the burden of what happened,’ she said.
The case drew a public outcry over the number of rapes and the length of time they occurred.
Officials said many of the victims did not report their cases, for fear of having to relive the traumatic experience, and their parents had trusted that the boarding school was guiding their children to become good and religious people.
West Java police began to investigate the case and arrested Wirawan last May, when the parents of a victim went to the police after their daughter returned home on a holiday and admitted she had just given birth.
The three-judge panel at Bandung District Court convicted Wirawan of violating the Child Protection Law and Criminal Code.
They also ordered the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection to pay 331 million rupiah ($23,200) in combined compensation requested by the victims and between $600 and $6,000 for medical and psychological treatment for each girl.
‘The defendant deliberately committed violence and obscene acts,’ Presiding Judge Yohannes Purnomo Suryo Ali said. ‘Instead of educating his students, he resorted to violence or threats of violence to force children to have sexual intercourse with him.’
The judges also ruled that nine children born to the victims should be handed over to the Children and Women Protection Agency with periodic evaluation ‘until the victims are mentally ready to care for their children, and the situation allows for their children to be returned to the victims.’