Indonesian girls traumatized by push to wear hijab - HRW

Ifa Hanifah Misbach was just 19 when her father died.

Her family told her he would not go to heaven because she refused to wear the hijab - a Muslim head covering.

26 years on, Misbach now works as a psychologist in West Java.

She has counseled dozens of Indonesian girls who have been ostracized, bullied and threatened with expulsion from school because they wouldn't wear the veil.

In some extreme cases, her clients have even considered suicide.

"I want to pray to my religion with honesty, I want to be honest to myself. I chose not to wear hijab and I don't want to feel like a hypocrite and hope people think that I'm a good Muslim woman. But the truth is I'm lying to my God and that's where I felt my first anxiety."

Misbach's experience is one of many shared by women and girls in the world's largest Muslim-majority nation.

Conservatism and a growing intolerance of beliefs other than Islam has risen in Indonesia over the past two decades.

A Human Rights Watch report identified over 60 discriminatory local bylaws issued since 2001 to enforce female dress codes.

And a 2014 government regulation heavily implies that all female Muslim students should wear a hijab at school.

The report comes after a Christian schoolgirl in West Sumatra who was forced to wear the hijab sparked outcry last month, leading the education and religious affairs ministry to issue a decree banning public schools from making religious attire mandatory.

Here's HRW researcher, Andreas Harsono:

"This hijab regulation is abusing freedom of religion, freedom of expression, privacy of the woman, the best interests of the child, because children should be free form bullying and children should be free from intolerance, and of course the right to education. For some women it might mean they lose their job."

HRW found cases of female civil servants and lecturers who resigned due to pressure to wear the hijab.

Others were unable to access government services because they chose not to veil.

The education and religious affairs ministries did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.