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Seeking balance in diverse Indonesia

  • 30 September 2019


'My crotch does not belong to the government,' read a board held up in a protest against a series of proposed updates to the Dutch-era criminal code in Indonesia.

After a series of violent protests and mass demonstrations, President Joko Widowo announced on 20 September that the 628-article draft bill had been halted. Though several articles targeted basic freedoms and an anti-corruption institution, the regulations around gender, sex and sexuality stood out.

The ban on extramarital (and pre-marital) sex, punishable by up to one year in prison, stood out as particularly troubling. Registered marriage is an undefined concept in the country. According to the Australian Aid Report 2015, not all marriages are registered under the Civil Registry or Religious Affairs Office. Fifty-five per cent of couples in the poorest households do not have an official marriage certificate. Furthermore, couples married under the country's indigenous faith systems are not recognised. 

As vocabulary in the bill is vague, any union that falls under the term 'obscene act' could be criminalised. This linguistic nuance could be used to hound and target LGBTQIA+ people.

Couples living together outside of marriage could face up to six months in prison and can be reported by a village head. Though homosexuality is not illegal in Indonesia, same-sex unions and marriage are not legally accepted. As a result, same-sex couples could be imprisoned for de facto relationships (or other non-heteronormative arrangements).

Abortion could have carried a maximum of a four year prison term if no evidence of a medical emergency or sexual assault could be proved. Sexual assault is rife in the country; according to the United Nations' Global Database on Violence Against Women, 'lifetime physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence' stands at 18 per cent and child marriage at 14 per cent. The Eradication of Sexual Violence bill has been stuck in parliament since 2014 and has been reduced from its original 155 to 59 articles by members debating its ratification.

The restriction of abortion means females have limited choice over their relationships, bodies and livelihoods. Sexual assault examinations and court cases can re-traumatise victims, sometimes more than the actual assault. Womens' reproductive health is also endangered because they are unable to access basic information about their bodies, while limited discourse around acceptable sexual practices (such as consent and boundaries) increases the likelihood of gender based violence. 


"The legitimation of local legislation means that there is a legal foundation to enact discriminatory beliefs in a