Indonesia Has Criminalised Sex Outside Marriage, So If You Want It Then You Better Put a Ring on It

indonesia sex ban

If you were thinking about enjoying a romantic getaway in Bali with your other half but have yet to tie the knot, you may want to reconsider your destination.

The Indonesian Parliament has just passed sweeping criminal reforms that will make sex outside of marriage a jailable offence, along with a raft of other sanctions, including insulting the president. The laws apply to both locals and foreigners.

A previous draft of the code nearly passed in 2019 but, after inciting tens of thousands of Indonesians to take to the streets in protest, the proposal was scrapped.

This time, however, as conservatism rises amongst the ruling class in the Muslim-majority nation, Parliament has ratified the laws. They have been described by critics as a “disaster” for human rights.

There are some 600 new criminal codes contained in this legislation. Aside from the sex ban, which is now punishable by a year in jail, cohabitation with a partner is also punishable by six months in prison, as is spreading views that are contrary to the nation’s secular national ideology, known as the Pancasila.

Legal experts and civil rights groups have said that the changes to the Indonesian criminal code are a major setback for democracy.

“The state cannot manage morality. The government’s duty is not as an umpire between conservative and liberal Indonesia,” said Bivitri Susanti, a law expert from the Indonesia Jentera School of Law.

Muhamad Isnur, the chair of the Indonesia Legal Aid Foundation, said that same-sex couples could face further discrimination under the new laws as Indonesia does not recognise same-sex marriage.

“This is dangerous not only because of the threat of punishment, but it can [give] legitimacy to the vigilante community,” he said.

There are “at least” 88 new articles in the draft legislation that have broad implications for anyone expressing personal opinion or peacefully protesting. Defamation can be punished by jail time, while other sections of the code could be used to legitimise discrimination against women, religious minority groups, and queer people.

Abortion will remain illegal in all cases except for rape, while the new code also outlaws the promotion of contraception and expands the laws around blasphemy. Locals are also prohibited from practising ‘black magic’ while 10-year sentences can now be handed down for associating with pro-Lenin, Marxist, or communist groups.

The laws have been decades in the making and are designed as a replacement for the country’s current criminal code, which is a hangover from Dutch colonial rule. Professor Simon Butt from the University of Sydney’s law school has described the Indonesian legal system as “essentially the code that the Dutch imposed” in 1918.

“There have been some piecemeal changes over the years, but that’s about it,” he told the ABC.

How Will Indonesia’s New Sex Laws Affect Tourists?

Because of the size and scale of the reforms, the new laws won’t come into effect for another three years. So, you’ve still got a bit of time to travel to the popular tourist destination before the sex ban without fear of prosecution.

Tourism operators and businesses have long been campaigning against the criminal code reforms as they worry it will severely impact the holiday-making sector. After a difficult few years for the industry through COVID, there are fears that tourists will simply not return to the islands if sex is banned.

Already, Aussies on Facebook groups dedicated to travelling to Indonesia have said they will be travelling with their marriage certificates or just going elsewhere if they can’t share a room with their partner. The Aussie media has already dubbed the changes the ‘Bali bonk bank’ as it affects our most popular tourist destination. 1.23 million Australians visited Bali in 2019 and ‘schoolies’ trips to Indonesia are a rite of passage for some.

However, many of the laws can only be enforced if someone makes an official complaint about another breaking them. Punishment for sex outside of marriage, for example, can only be carried out if the person is reported by their spouse or their kid. For cohabitation, the partner’s parents would have to dob them in. The president, however, can make an official complaint about being insulted, which would then result in criminal charges.

Professor Butt also told the ABC that, although it’s hard to say at this stage, the laws may not have much of an impact on tourists.

“It would be applicable to tourists,” he said. “It is unlikely, in practice, to affect tourists travelling to Indonesia, provided that no such complaints are made to Indonesian police.”

A spokesperson for the Indonesian Justice Ministry also told WAToday that Australian tourists should have little to fear from the sex ban as the laws require locals making reports about them.

However, Andreas Harsono, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, has told also told the ABC that this system could open the door to corruption.

“The danger of oppressive laws is not that they’ll be broadly applied, it’s that they provide avenue for selective enforcement,” he said. The implication here is that police officers could target hotels or tourism hotspots looking for people breaking the law.

“These laws let police extort bribes, let officials jail political foes, for instance, with the blasphemy law,” he said.

This is particularly concerning for queer people, as there are also laws that prohibit “immoral acts,” which could include public displays of affection between same-sex couples.

Although these laws have now passed, it is likely that they will be challenged in court. The Indonesian government will spend the next three years working out the precise means of implementing the laws and their implications for all aspects of Indonesian society. So, we could get some shifts in how these laws are applied, but the spirit of the laws will likely remain.

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