Indonesia bans sex outside marriage

Indonesia’s parliament has approved a new penal code that would ban extramarital sex with a jail term of up to one year, despite concerns the laws could deter tourists from tropical shores and hurt investment.

The new code, which will apply to both Indonesians and foreigners, also prohibits cohabitation between unmarried couples. It also prohibits insulting the president or state institutions, spreading views contrary to state ideology, and organizing protests without notice.

The laws were passed with the support of all political parties.

However, the code will only enter into force in three years’ time so that implementation regulations can be drawn up.

Indonesia currently prohibits adultery, but not premarital sex.

Maulana Yusran, deputy head of Indonesia’s tourism industry, said the new code was “totally counterproductive” at a time when the economy and tourism were beginning to recover from the pandemic.

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

Foreign arrivals in the holiday destination of Bali are expected to reach pre-pandemic levels of six million by 2025, the tourism body has previously said, as the island recovers from the effects of Covid-19.

Indonesia is also trying to attract more so-called “digital nomads” to its tropical shores by offering a more flexible visa.

Speaking at an investment summit, US Ambassador to Indonesia Sung Kim said the news could lead to less foreign investment, tourism and travel to the Southeast Asian country.

“Criminalizing the personal decisions of individuals would play a major role in the decision matrix of many companies determining whether to invest in Indonesia,” he said.

Albert Aries, a spokesman for Indonesia’s justice ministry, said the new laws regulating morality are limited by who can report them, such as a parent, spouse or child of suspected offenders.

“The aim is to protect the institution of marriage and Indonesian values, while at the same time protecting the privacy of the community and also nullifying the rights of the public or other third parties to report this matter or ‘play the judge’ …for morale,” he said.

These laws are part of a series of legal changes that critics say undermine civil liberties in the world’s third-largest democracy. Other laws include a ban on black magic.


Editorials in national newspapers condemned the new laws, with daily Koran Tempo saying the code has “authoritarian” tones, while the Jakarta Post said it had “serious concerns” about its application.

Decades in the making, lawmakers hailed the passing of the penal code as the much-needed overhaul of a colonial relic.

“The old code belongs to the Dutch heritage … and is now no longer relevant,” Bambang Wuryanto, head of the parliamentary committee responsible for reviewing the code, told lawmakers.

Opponents of the bill have put forward articles they say will restrict freedom of expression and represent a “massive setback” in ensuring the preservation of democratic freedoms after the fall of authoritarian leader Suharto in 1998.

“This is not just a setback but a death for Indonesian democracy,” said Citra Referandum, a lawyer at the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute. “The process has not been democratic at all.”

Responding to the criticism, Indonesia’s Minister of Law and Human Rights, Yasonna Laoly, told parliament: “It is not easy for a multicultural and multi-ethnic country to create a penal code that can accommodate all interests. “

Legal experts say a customary law article could reinforce discriminatory and Sharia-inspired regulations at the local level and pose a particular threat to LGBT people.

“Regulations inconsistent with human rights principles will occur in conservative areas,” said Bivitri Susanti, of Indonesia’s Jentera School of Law, referring to existing statutes in some regions that impose curfews on women, or target what is described as “deviant” sexualities.

The new laws will also include more lenient sentences for those accused of corruption.

The morality charges have been partially watered down from an earlier version of the bill so that they can only be reported by limited parties, such as a spouse, parent or child.

The government planned to pass a revision of the colonial-era penal code in 2019, but nationwide protests halted its passage.

Lawmakers have since relaxed some provisions, with President Joko Widodo urging parliament to pass the bill this year, before the country’s political climate heats up ahead of presidential elections scheduled for early 2024.

Public reaction to the new code has been muted so far, with only minor protests on Monday and Tuesday in the capital.