Indonesia Yelled “No Sex Out of Wedlock!”


If you’re unmarried and thinking of moving with your significant other to Indonesia in three years, you may want to double up on that rent money. In early December, after what had been rumbling rumors for years, a law was announced which can best be described as wildly controversial. On Tuesday December 6th, a criminal code was passed that criminalizes sex outside marriage. This is one of many in a set, which, in the eyes of critics, threatened Indonesia’s human rights and freedoms. If successful, this new code which extends and applies to Indonesians and foreign residents, bans cohabitation before marriage, apostasy, and provides punishments for insulting the president or expressing views that don’t similarly align with those in power. The law if it fully goes into effect criminalizes those who have sex while unmarried and those who cohabit. With these offenses, one is staring at the possibility of time behind bars. Though.. with Indonesia being a magnet for lovers and relaxation hunters, how does this law play with vacations? 


Since becoming independent from the Dutch in 1945, Indonesia’s criminal law has been in dire need of a reform. This is according to Simon Butt, a professor and director of the Centre for Asian and Pacific Law at the University of Sydney, who said “The current code is ancient. It is essentially the code that the Dutch imposed in Indonesia in 1918. There have been some piecemeal changes over the years, but that’s about it.” The bill which was recently passed brought insight about the future from several businessmen in the form of warnings about its potential negative effect. Businesses worry as they fear what this law coming into effect would look like on the tourism front.  


From being a coveted tourist destination throughout the year, they’re worried that it will make the country less desirable, causing the number of visitors to harshly and hastily decline and maintain the decline.  The law, if it comes to pass, criminalizes sex outside of marriage. According to CNN, “The new code also criminalizes cohabitation between unmarried couples and promoting contraception to minors, and enshrines laws against abortion (except in cases of rape and medical emergencies when the fetus is less than 12 weeks) and blasphemy.” Convicts face not only months in jail but can possibly be assigned years behind bars. Luckily for tourists, what’s been dubbed the Bali Bonking Ban, doesn’t extend its hand to them.  


This is because when visitors enter Indonesia, they will not be subjected to proving their marital status at any point of their visit, not even when checking into accommodation.  Also, the authorities will not carry out checks into the lives of visitors. Deputy Minister of Law and Human Rights, Edward Omar Sharif Hiariej, who is also included in the Advanced Indonesia Cabinet for the 2020-2024 period assured the safety of tourists. He said, “I want to emphasize for foreign tourists, please come to Indonesia because you will not be charged with this article”. This is especially true because in order for someone to get in trouble they’d have to be told upon. In line with the new criminal code, extra-marital sex and cohabitation offenses would only be prosecuted if reported by a spouse, parent or child. This provision makes it quite unlikely that tourists will be affected, officials insist. With Indonesia fighting its way through the effects of 2020 and 2021 all the while trying to attract visitors, in the eyes of many, green lighting the law would most definitely be described as highly counterproductive. 


The criminal code will come into effect in three years as there are regulations that have to be thoroughly thought through, implemented and worked out and on in order to transition from the old Dutch code to this new one. Truth be told, no one really knows what the end of these three years of waiting would look like when this law’s fate will unfold. Will couples need to be wedded to build a life there, or will they keep the hall pass going for strictly visitors? 



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