Indonesia Prohibits Sex Outside Marriage in New Legislation

LGBTQ+ activists in Indonesia. Photo credit: Voice of Asia.

On Tuesday, the Indonesian parliament greenlit a legislation that would ban sex between unmarried couples and also make it illegal for partners to live in without having tied the knot.

The country’s criminal code was revised after being endorsed by all nine parties and then the deputy house speaker Sufmi Dasco Ahmad approved it to be “legal”. The criminal code of Indonesia dates back to the Dutch colonial era and some parts of it have been pointed out as problematic by activists and debated for years on end.

Rights groups in the nation denounced the amendments and called them a crackdown on civil liberties and political freedoms of people. It has also caused concern among tourism professionals who were relying heavily on international tourists returning to the country after the damper caused for over two years by the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, authorities have insisted that there will be no immediate effect as the new law still needs to be approved by President Joko Widodo, and would then come into force after three years.

According to AFP, sex outside of marriage will be punished with one year in prison while unmarried people living together could face six months in jail. Previous amendments had also criminalized sex between homosexual couples but the final text doesn’t reflect this.

But according to Andreas Harsono of Human Rights Watch, the new rules on adultery and cohabitation could also be used to delegitimize the LGBTQ community in Indonesia, since the country does not recognize same-sex marriage.

Albert Aries from the Law and Human Rights Ministry defended the amendments and said, “Sex outside marriage could only be reported by a spouse, parents or children, drastically limiting the scope of the amendment.”

The legislation also consists of several articles on blasphemy that is already a crime in Indonesia and there is a revised jail term between two to four years for anyone charged with coercing others to give up their religion.

Earlier the death sentence was usually reserved for drug-related crimes and now there would be a 10-year probation period following which a death sentence could be reduced to life sentence if the convict displays exemplary behavior.

“The passing of the criminal code bill is clearly a step back in the protection of civil rights… particularly on the rights of freedom of expression and press freedom,” said Amnesty International Indonesia director Usman Hamid.

An previous attempt to pass a similar law in 2019 caused huge uproar and protests among the public which eventually made the government retrace it steps.

Foreign visitors to Indonesia, especially to its island province of Bali have expressed worry over this controversial law which could potentially keep unmarried couples from even staying at a hotel together. Some even wondered on social media if they needed to carry their marriage certificates to prove the legitimacy of their relationship while on vacation.

Mr Harsono said that this dangerous law could open the door to “selective law enforcement”.

“It might be hotels, it might be foreign tourists… that will allow certain police officers to extort bribes or certain politicians to use, let’s say, the blasphemy law, to jail their opponents,” he added.