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How Indonesia’s New Sex Law Could Hit Tourism


Indonesia’s new penal code has raised concerns among both tourists and its citizens.

Revised penal code passed unanimously by parliament makes sex outside marriage punishable by up to a year in prison and six months cohabitation, says Associated Press (AP) report.

However, only family members, including a spouse, parent and child, can file complaints with the police about extramarital sex or against unmarried couples who live together.

The new laws that will come into effect three years later will apply to Indonesians and foreigners living in the country, as well as visitors.

The blasphemy laws have also been expanded from “one to six provisions” and can carry a maximum prison sentence of five years.

Under the new law, abortion remains a crime in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, but exceptions would be made for women with life-threatening illnesses and in cases of rape, as the fetus has less of 12 weeks.

The new code also prohibits “insulting” a sitting president or vice president, state institutions and national ideology. The law, which is complaint-based and must be initiated by office holders themselves, could result in a prison sentence of up to three years, PA reported.

Along with other changes, the criminalization of sex outside of marriage has received the most spotlight with many critics criticizing the law.

How will the new penal code affect tourism in Indonesia? What are the concerns about strict morality laws? We take a look.

Tourism in Indonesia and the new penal code

Australia is most concerned about Indonesia’s new penal code, with some newspapers dubbing it “Bali bonk ban”, BBC says the report.

Australian tourism plays a major role in contributing to the Indonesian economy. According BBC, thousands of Australians visit the tropical Indonesian island of Bali each month. Weddings in Bali are also common, and Australian students frequent the island every year to celebrate their graduation.

This new penal code is likely to affect tourism in Indonesia, which has already been affected due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tourism could be affected in Indonesia due to new laws criminalizing sex outside marriage. AFP (representative image)

In 2019, a record 1.23 million Australian tourists visited Bali, according to Indonesia Institute, a Perth-based non-governmental organization.

Data from Statistica showed that only 51 foreign holidaymakers visited the island in 2021 due to the pandemic.

READ ALSO: Indonesia criminalizes adultery : Which other countries have banned extramarital affairs?

Indonesia’s attempts to allay fears

Some argue that banning sex outside marriage would not affect tourists because for a police investigation to take place, the complaint must be made by close family members, BBC reported.

However, a foreigner who has had sex with a married or unmarried local could potentially find himself in the crosshairs of the revised code if a complaint is filed by a close relative of that local, Indonesian MP Taufik Basari said, according to the newspaper. Australian. Sydney Morning Herald.

“It is indeed problematic,” he added.

MP Basari, who is on the parliamentary committee overseeing legal affairs, told the newspaper that the Indonesian tourism industry and Australians should not be worried.

“The reason why cohabitation is criminalized is that it is considered a crime against the institution of marriage or a crime against the institution of family,” he said.

“Therefore, only interested persons could file a complaint,” Basari said.

The new code is a concern for many

Many critics have raised doubts about the new legislation.

How Indonesia's New Sex Law Could Affect Tourism

Many have raised concerns about Indonesia’s new penal code. PA

Zainal Arifin, head of the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation’s advocacy team, warned that the revised code had “the potential to criminalize [Indonesian] foreign people and tourists,” reported Sydney Morning Herald.

Maulana Yusran, deputy head of Indonesia’s tourism industry council, called the new code “totally counterproductive” because the economy and tourism industry had just started to rebound from the pandemic.

“We deeply regret that the government turned a blind eye. We have already expressed our concern to the Ministry of Tourism about the harmfulness of this law,” he said. Sky News.

Putu Winastra, chairman of the Association of Indonesian Tour and Travel Agencies (ASITA) in Bali, said CNN the laws would “make foreigners think twice” before coming to the Southeast Asian nation.

“Should we ask (unmarried couples abroad) if they are married or not? Do tourist couples have to prove they are married? he asked.

Some have also expressed concern that police only probing allegations of extramarital sex if complaints are made by family members could lead to ‘selective law enforcement’.

“That means it will only be used against certain targets,” said Andreas Harsono, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

“It can be hotels, it can be foreign tourists… which will allow certain police officers to extort bribes or certain politicians to use, say, the blasphemy law, to imprison their opponents”, he added, according to BBC.

Canadian travel blogger Melissa Giroux, who stayed in Bali for 18 months in 2017, said BBC she was “shocked” that the revised code had passed, after years of discussion and protest.

“Many tourists will rather go elsewhere than risk going to jail once the law is enforced,” Giroux said. BBC.

“And I’m not even thinking of singles who come to Bali to party or those who fall in love on their travels,” the blogger added.

With contributions from agencies

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