Jakarta – A school on Indonesia's main island has partially shaved the heads of more than a dozen girls, its headmaster said Monday, after they were accused of wearing their Islamic hijab headscarves incorrectly.
Activists say Muslim and non-Muslim girls have been forced for years to wear a hijab in conservative parts of the archipelago nation of 270 million people, which moved in 2021 to ban schools from such mandatory dress codes.
An unidentified teacher at state-owned junior high school SMPN 1 in the East Java town of Lamongan partially shaved the hair of 14 Muslim girls last Wednesday, headmaster Harto, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, said.
He said the schoolgirls did not wear inner caps under their headscarves, leaving their fringes visible.
"There is no obligation for female students to wear hijab, but they were advised to wear the inner caps for neat appearance," Harto told AFP. "We apologized to the parents and after mediation, we reached a common understanding."
The school has promised it would provide students with psychological assistance. "We realized that we had to resolve it carefully not to bring prolonged effects to the children," he said.
Rights groups called for the teacher to be sacked. "The Lamongan case is probably the most intimidating ever in Indonesia," Andreas Harsono, Indonesia researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
"No teachers who have cut their students' hair have ever been sanctioned. The education office in Lamongan should sanction this teacher, at least removing her from the school and assign psychologists to deal with the trauma among the victims."
The group said in a 2021 report that some schoolgirls have had their hijabs cut if not worn correctly, while others have had marks penalized or faced expulsion for not wearing hijabs.
Indonesia recognises six major religions but there have been concerns about growing religious intolerance in the Muslim-majority country.
The headscarf issue grabbed headlines in 2021 after a Christian student in West Sumatra was pressured to wear a hijab in a case officials described as the "tip of the iceberg".
The government issued a decree in early 2021 to allow girls and women in state schools to choose what they can wear, banning schools from prescribing religious attire.
The country's Supreme Court struck down that decision months later, ruling children under 18 had no right to choose their own school clothes.