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Indonesia set to punish sex before marriage with jail time

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A woman in Aceh, Indonesia, before being caned in November for having sex outside of marriage. Aceh province already has strict laws against sex outside marriage
Image caption,A woman in Aceh, Indonesia, before being caned in November for having sex outside of marriage. Aceh province already has strict laws against sex outside marriage

By Thomas Mackintosh

BBC News

Indonesia’s parliament is expected to pass a new criminal law this month that will punish sex outside marriage with imprisonment of up to a year.

Bambang Wuryanto, a politician involved in the draft, said the code could be passed as early as next week.

The law, if passed, would apply to Indonesian citizens and foreigners alike.

Punishment for adultery can only take effect if there are parties who lodge complaints to the authorities.

For those who are married, the party entitled to lodge a complaint is the perpetrator’s husband or wife.

The law also allows the parents of unmarried people to report them for having sex.

Cohabitation before marriage will also be banned and those convicted could face a six-month prison sentence.

Business groups have expressed concern about the damage the rules might do to Indonesia’s image as a holiday and investment destination, according to Reuters.

Shinta Widjaja Sukamdani, deputy chairperson of Indonesia’s Employers’ Association (APINDO), said: “For the business sector, the implementation of this customary law shall create legal uncertainty and make investors reconsider investing in Indonesia.”

The previous draft of the code was set to be passed in 2019 but sparked nationwide protests with tens of thousands taking part in demonstrations.

Many, including students, took to the streets in cities across Indonesia with the main clashes taking place in the capital Jakarta.

Tear gas and water cannon were used against protesters who had thrown stones at police. caption,

Jakarta police battled protesters in 2019 who were angry over a new corruption law and proposed penal code

Such strict laws on sex and relationships are not without precedent in parts of majority-Muslim Indonesia.

The province of Aceh enforces strict Islamic law and has punished people for gambling, drinking alcohol and meeting members of the opposite sex.

In one case in 2021, neighbours denounced two men for having sex. They each received 77 lashes from a police officer in a public caning.

On the same day a woman and man were each given 20 lashes for being caught in close proximity to each other, and two men were given 40 lashes each for getting drunk.


Indonesia set to make sex outside marriage punishable by jail

MPs expected to pass new criminal code that will also make insulting the president a crime

Protesters hold up a sign behind razor wire
Protesters demonstrating in June against Indonesia’s proposed new criminal code, which is set to make sex outside marriage a crime. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Rebecca Ratcliffe in BangkokFri 2 Dec 2022

Indonesia’s parliament is expected to pass a new criminal code this month that would criminalise sex outside marriage and outlaw insults against the president or state institutions, prompting alarm from human rights campaigners.

The deputy justice minister, Edward Omar Sharif Hiariej, said in an interview with Reuters that the new criminal code was expected to be passed on 15 December. “We’re proud to have a criminal code that’s in line with Indonesian values,” he said.

Bambang Wuryanto, a lawmaker involved in the draft, said the code could be passed by as early as next week.

If passed, the code would apply to Indonesian citizens and foreign visitors, and introduce sweeping changes affecting a wide range of civil liberties.

Sex outside marriage, which under the code could be reported only by limited parties such as close relatives, could lead to up to a year in prison, while unmarried couples would be banned from living together.

Civil society activists have said this would leave same-sex couples, who do not have the right to marry, at additional risk of prosecution. “This is dangerous not only because of the threat of punishment, but it can [give] legitimacy to the vigilante community,” said Muhamad Isnur, the chair of the Indonesia Legal Aid Foundation.

Insulting the president, which under the code could be reported only by the president, would carry a maximum of three years. Insulting state institutions and expressing any views counter to Indonesia’s state ideology would also be forbidden.

Abortion would remain illegal except in cases of rape, according to the latest draft seen by Reuters, which was dated 24 November.

While the draft has the support of some Islamic groups, others fear it would be disastrous for democratic and civil liberties. Nurina Savitri, a campaign manager at Amnesty International Indonesia, said there were dozens of articles that could be used to stifle dissent.

“There are least 88 articles containing broad provisions that could be misused and misinterpreted by both authorities and the public to criminalise those who peacefully express their opinions or exercise their rights to peaceful assembly and association,” she said.

Savitri raised concerns over a provision that would criminalise “unsanctioned public demonstrations” that cause public unrest, which she said could be used to restrict peaceful assembly.

The bill also maintains imprisonment as a penalty for defamation, and raises the prison term for those found guilty of defaming public officials, Savitri said.

It is feared that a broad article in the code that refers to “living laws” could be used to recognise hundreds of regulations that exist at a local level and that are discriminatory against women, religious minorities and LGBTQ+ people.

A previous draft of the code was poised to be passed in 2019 but the process was delayed after tens of thousands of people took to the streets in nationwide protests.

Changes have since been made to the draft code, said Isnur, but there were still many concerns over the articles it contains. “Of course these problematic articles can seriously threaten democracy in the future,” Isnur said.

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Andreas Harsono, of Human Rights Watch, said changes to the code would be a “huge setback to Indonesian democracy”.

Business experts have said the overhaul could damage the country’s image as a tourist destination and undermine investment.

The draft bill has been decades in the making and is intended to replace the current criminal code, which dates back to the Dutch colonial period.

The deputy justice minister dismissed concerns that the code would undermine democratic rights, and told Reuters that the final version of the draft would ensure that regional laws adhered to national legislation.


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