Australia

Indonesia sex ban may cool Aussies’ love affair with Bali

Indonesia, a popular holiday destination, has passed a so-called ‘bonk ban’ – but what does it mean for Australian tourists?

The Indonesian Parliament introduced sweeping changes to the country’s criminal code, including a ban on sex outside of marriage, on Tuesday.

While Amnesty International slammed the changes as a “significant blow” to human rights in Indonesia, local businesses and international tourists are concerned about the impact of the new laws on tourism.

Pre-pandemic tourism accounted for 5.7 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product and in Bali, arguably the country’s tourism capital, 70 per cent of the population depends on tourism.

Australians are particularly fond of a visit, with Australian tourists spending more money per day and staying longer in Indonesia than any other nationality.

Flights to Bali are sometimes cheaper than interstate routes. Could the changes reduce that popularity?

The deputy chief of Indonesia’s tourism industry board, Maulana Yusran, has fears for what the reforms mean for the tourism sector.

“We deeply regret that government have closed their eyes. We have already expressed our concern to the ministry of tourism about how harmful this law is,” Mr Yusran said.

Sex crimes

While human rights advocates are worried about a number of  changes to Indonesia’s criminal code, the one that has sparked the biggest reaction is the criminalisation of sex outside of marriage.

Under the changes to Indonesia’s criminal code, premarital sex will be punishable by up to one year in jail.

Cohabitation between unmarried couples will also be banned (and will be punishable by up to six months in jail). Adultery has been illegal for years.

However, only the spouses, parents or children of the accused will be able to report acts of premarital and extramarital sex.

Indonesian Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly [left] during a session ratifying the country’s new criminal code. Photo: AAP

The new criminal code will not come into effect for three years to allow for regulations to be drafted.

The changes stem from the growing “political use” of Islam in the Muslim-majority country, despite the fact Indonesia is officially secular, senior research fellow at the Crawford School of Public Policy, Angie Bexley, said.

‘Troublesome’

With only close family members able to report people for having sex outside of marriage, it’s unclear in the law how, or if, tourists will be monitored or reported, and whether unmarried couples will need to get separate accomodation.

But ultimately, the law is the law, Dr Bexley said.

“The troublesome part is how [the new laws] will be implemented,” she said.

“You’re not going to have experts in constitutional law out there that are going to be implementing [the changes].”

Activists rally against the new criminal law. The posters read ‘Reject the revised penal code’ and ‘Revised criminal law shackles press freedom.’ Photo: AAP

While Australians might be concerned about how Indonesia’s law reforms will affect their holiday plans, Dr Bexley said the changes are more concerning for people living in Indonesia.

“I don’t think Australians need to worry so much that it’s going to be a ‘bonk ban’ … much more concerning is what it means for Indonesia’s decline in democratic processes,” she said.

Women and minority groups are most at risk – both among Indonesian residents and international tourists.

Dr Bexley said there are concerns the new laws could encourage a rise in child marriage as families attempt to make sure their children don’t engage in premarital sex, and could give rapists an opportunity to report their victims for having sex outside of marriage to pre-empt rape charges.

She said the new laws undermine the progress Indonesia made earlier this year, when the Parliament passed a long-awaited bill which provided a legal framework for victims of sexual violence to pursue justice.

The new laws could also lead to more targeting of the LGBTQI+ community, as gay marriage is not legal in Indonesia, and now sex and cohabitation are also off the table.

There is still hope that changes could be made to the newly-passed criminal code reforms over the next three years before they come into force, with strong pushback expected.



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