Human Rights Watch has urged Indonesia's national police to halt "discriminatory" virginity tests for women applying to join the force in the world's most populous Muslim-majority country.

The rights group said on Tuesday that women applicants were required to be both unmarried and virgins, and that the virginity test is still widely used despite the insistence of some senior police officials that it has been stopped.

I don't want to remember those bad experiences. It was humiliating. Why should we take off our clothes in front of strangers? 

A woman subjected to the test

In a series of interviews with HRW, young women - including some who underwent the test as recently as this year - described the procedure as painful and traumatic.

The women told how they were forced to strip naked before female medics gave them a "two-finger test" - a practice described by HRW as archaic and discredited.

"I don't want to remember those bad experiences. It was humiliating," said one 19-year-woman who took the test in the city of Pekanbaru, on western Sumatra island, and whose identity was not disclosed.

"Why should we take off our clothes in front of strangers? It is not necessary. I think it should be stopped."

Nisha Varia, associate women's rights director at HRW, described the tests as "a discriminatory practice that harms and humiliates women.

"Police authorities in Jakarta need to immediately and unequivocally abolish the test, and then make certain that all police recruiting stations nationwide stop administering it."

Virginity valued

The tests contravene the police's own guidelines on recruitment and violate international human rights to equality, non-discrimination and privacy, HRW said.

Police did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

While senior police have insisted in recent years that virginity tests for female applicants have been stopped, HRW said a posting on the force's own website this month noted that female applicants must undergo the procedure.

Women currently make up about three percent of the 400,000-strong force, HRW said, but added the police had launched a drive to increase the number of female officers.

Society is deeply conservative in parts of Indonesia and some still value female virginity highly.

The issue hit the headlines last year, when the education chief of a city sparked outrage by suggesting that teenage schoolgirls should undergo virginity tests to enter senior high school.

Source: Agencies