TURKMENBASHI, Turkmenistan -- Female high school students in Turkmenistan’s coastal province of Balkan are being subjected to mandatory virginity tests, which officials say are needed to evaluate the teenagers’ morality.
Authorities have not sought the teenagers’ or their parents’ consent for the controversial tests carried out by gynecologists, several parents and students told RFE/RL.
Students who “fail” the test are being reported to police and security services, according to an educational worker familiar with the campaign.
“In the cities of Balkanabat and Turkmenbashi, all female students from 9th to 11th grades are being forced to undergo the gynecological examination. A list of the girls who are identified during the tests as having had sexual intercourse are being shared with the local police department and the National Security Ministry,” the man, who requested anonymity, told RFE/RL.
Police often check the mobile phones of the girls on the list to seek information about their suspected sexual partners, other education workers claimed.
“Law enforcement officers explained that this is being done to identify and bring to justice people who have had intimate relationships with minors,” said a worker in the provincial capital, Balkanabat.
“Large-scale inspections are under way in the province currently,” he added.
The education workers spoke on condition of anonymity, citing security reasons in the tightly controlled Central Asian state. RFE/RL contacted government officials in Balkan Province for comment but received no response.
No public explanation was offered by the government on why the gynecological tests are being carried out, but the Balkanabat-based worker suspects the tests are linked to a reported rise in teenage pregnancies in the province in recent months. Six such cases were recorded just in Balkanabat, he said.
“This information reached the Education Ministry, which issued a severe reprimand to the head of the Balkan regional education department as a result. Right after that, [provincial authorities] started checks for ‘moral purity’ in big cities,” he said.
They Have No Say
So-called virginity tests are not unprecedented in Turkmenistan, where the authoritarian government exercises extensive control over people’s lives.
In 2018, police and security officers accompanied by gynecologists conducted unannounced raids at schools in the northern Dashoguz region. The officers checked male students’ mobile phones for pornographic videos, while female students were rounded up to undergo virginity tests in the school nurse’s office, eyewitnesses said.
“Some of the girls were discovered to not be virgins during the tests, and their parents were summoned and shamed in front of everyone at the school,” a source close to the matter told RFE/RL at the time.
According to a source at the Dashoguz police department, the 2018 tests were allegedly part of the regional government’s efforts to tackle prostitution among teenagers. RFE/RL cannot independently verify the claims.
In 2019, school administrations in the southeastern Mary Province ordered all female students from the 8th to 11th grades to undergo a gynecological examination “regardless of whether their parents give consent or not.”
Many women’s rights activists worldwide condemn the so-called virginity test as an absurd and demeaning practice that should be abandoned. Many medical experts argue that such tests cannot determine a person’s virginity because the hymen can be damaged in different ways, not only by having sexual intercourse. Some women are even born without them.