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Indonesia Bans Sex Outside Marriage, Including Bali

Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
Ubud, Bali, Indonesia. Credit: Michelle Maria / wikimedia commons CC BY 3.0

Indonesia’s Parliament has passed a law banning extramarital sex. Any individual who has sex outside of marriage in Indonesia could now face a sentence of up to one year in jail.

The new legal code, which includes over six hundred articles, was unanimously approved in Parliament. However, critics have said that the new law is a “disaster” for human rights.

Destinations in Indonesia like Bali are incredibly popular tourist hotspots. Over three hundred thousand people vacationed in Bali this year in October alone. However, unmarried couples on holiday will also have to refrain from any sexual activity, according to the new law.

Business leaders are worried that the new legal measures will put off tourists from visiting Bali and other popular Indonesian tourist destinations.

Extramarital sex ban

The new law will apply to Indonesian citizens, foreigners living in the country, and visiting tourists.

Cohabitation has also been banned under the new legal code. Unmarried couples will no longer be permitted to live together. Unmarried cohabitors will face a sentence of six months in jail, whereas extramarital sex will carry a possible sentence of twelve months in prison.

Adultery has likewise been marked as a jailable offense. The new laws are partially the consequence of rising religious conservatism. Approximately 86.7 percent of Indonesians are Muslims. Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world.

Enforcement of the new law would be based on reports to the police by a spouse, parents, or children.

Human rights

Human rights activists have blasted the legal changes as “appalling.” Usman Hamid, Amnesty International’s Indonesia executive director, said, “What we’re witnessing is a significant blow to Indonesia’s hard-won progress in protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms over more than two decades.”

“Outlawing sex outside marriage is a violation to the right to privacy protected under international law,” Hamid added. “Consensual sexual relationships should not be treated as a criminal offense or a violation of ‘morality.'”

Human rights groups are especially concerned that the ban on extramarital sex and cohabitation will disproportionately affect LGBTQ individuals. Same-sex marriage is not recognized in Indonesia, so the new law would prevent same-sex couples from legally living together.

Small protests took place outside the Indonesian Parliament building in Jakarta on Tuesday.

Tourism and business

Pandawa Beach Bali Indonesia
Pandawa Beach, Bali, Indonesia. Credit: Michellewinardi / wikimedia commons CC BY 4.0

There are concerns that the extramarital sex ban will negatively impact Indonesia’s growing tourist industry. Indonesia is a major tourist destination. Over sixteen million tourists visit the country each year.

Maulana Yusran, the deputy chief of Indonesia’s tourism industry board, opined that the code was “totally counterproductive” and would harm Indonesia’s prospects for economic growth so soon after the pandemic. “We deeply regret [that]…government [officials] have closed their eyes,” he added.

Sung Kim, the US ambassador to Indonesia, also warned that the law could harm broader business interests in Indonesia. He said that criminalizing “the personal decisions of individuals would loom large within the decision matrix of many companies determining whether to invest in Indonesia.”

Legislators have defended the new law. Taufik Basari, a member of the NasDem Party, acknowledged there were concerns that the legal changes could dampen business prospects.

“I know it will impact tourism, which is why we should explain to the public that reports to police should be limited to what the family feels is really important,” Basari commented, “As a parliamentarian, I will try to find more limitations for the implementation of these articles.”

It remains to be seen whether visitors to Bali and other popular Indonesian tourist spots will be put off by the extramarital sex ban and whether the new law will be strictly enforced.

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