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‘Should I cancel my trip to Bali?’: Indonesia seeks to calm tourists’ jitters over new sex-outside-marriage law

Authorities have said the revised criminal code will prevent law enforcers from carrying out commonplace raids to curb the illicit sexual activities.

‘Should I cancel my trip to Bali?’: Indonesia seeks to calm tourists’ jitters over new sex-outside-marriage law

Critics have protested Indonesia's ban on sex outside marriage as an attack on civil liberties. (Photo: AFP/Adek Berry)

JAKARTA: Indonesian authorities are seeking to instill confidence in its tourism industry and calm tourists’ jitters over new laws criminalising sex outside of marriage and cohabitation.

The Law Ministry said the country's revised legislation will prevent law enforcers from carrying out commonplace raids to curb the illicit sexual activities that the very same criminal code forbids.

“There are standards, there are parameters, there are measurements for translating these articles,” said Indonesia’s Deputy Minister of Law and Human Rights Edward Omar Sharif Hiariej.

“We also give a warning to civil service police units that enforce local regulations, not to carry out sweeping raids and so on, because there are rules in the criminal code that define these (articles) as a complaint-based offence,” he added.


Indonesia’s top tourist destination of Bali was quick to react to travellers’ concerns, issuing media statements promising to safeguard privacy, just a day after the bill was passed.

The popular resort island emphasised that tourists will remain protected, and there will be no checking of marital status at any tourism accommodation.

Bali authorities also contacted foreign consuls and urged them to pass on the message to their citizens.

“We have asked to make clear to their citizens that there is no cause for worry in visiting Bali,” said Mr Tjokorda Bagus Pemayun, head of the Bali Tourism Agency. “This law guarantees, firstly, who can report someone.”

Before the revised code, anyone could file a complaint against offenders – adultery is already banned in the country under current laws.

When the new laws come into effect in about three years, the ban on sex outside marriage will be extended to everyone, including those who are unmarried. However, only the spouse, parents, and children of the rule-breaker can make a report to the police.


Social media has been rife with comments since the bill was approved by parliament on December 6, and the new code has been heavily covered by international media outlets.

The laws will apply not just to Indonesians, but also to foreign tourists visiting the country, as well as expatriates currently residing there.

“Say goodbye to your booming tourism sector, visiting numbers are going to drop like flies,” said @harrydavisonNZ on Twitter.

“Should I cancel my trip to Bali?” asked @HamletBueno.

“Here’s another reason I’d rather not go to Bali/Indonesia” @itstonz said in a tweet which included a link to a New Zealand news article about the new laws banning sex outside marriage.

The punishment for premarital sex is a maximum of one year in jail or a fine of 10 million rupiah (US$640). Cohabitation can result in six months’ imprisonment or a fine of 10 million rupiah.


The controversial sex and cohabitation provisions are only a part of the decades-in-the-making criminal code.

The revised articles will also make it a crime to insult the president, limit the right to protest, and update offences related to blasphemy, among other laws.  

The Indonesian parliament has said it will form a task force to better educate the public on the new laws.

“The penal code, or criminal code, is the most faithful mirror of our civilisation, so when you come to Indonesia, there are values that need to be respected,” said Albert Aries, spokesman for the new criminal code’s socialisation team.

Mr Hiariej said authorities were in a difficult position while drawing up the bill, and tried to strike a balance between the expectations from different groups within the country.

Provinces such as Muslim-majority West Sumatra had wanted stricter laws on acts deemed as undermining morals and contrary to the teachings of Islam. For instance, they wanted cohabitation to be more than just complaint-based.


Tour operators said they have already received numerous inquiries from travel agents overseas asking what the process will be like for their customers who want to visit Indonesia.

Authorities have not explained how they plan to enforce the new sex and cohabitation laws on travellers, and if couples will need to bring legal marriage certificates into the country.

However, it is still too early to see the impact on businesses, said the Association of Indonesian Tours and Travel Agencies.

“There were a few cancellations, but we don't know whether they are related to the criminal code or not. So it's too early to gauge,” noted Mr Budijanto Ardiansjah, the association’s deputy chairman.

“I'm concerned this will become a ‘bad promotion’, or a ‘bad campaign’ for Indonesian tourism,” he said, adding that there is a need to appropriately respond to criticisms.

Other industry players said the authorities must work fast if they want to keep Indonesia’s post-COVID19 recovery from being overshadowed by negative perception.

“The tourism sector really needs comfort, security, including maintaining positive narratives, lest negative narratives impact tourist visits,” said Mr Maulana Yusran, secretary-general of the Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association.

Official data has shown a steady monthly increase in the number of foreign tourists visiting Bali from the start of this year, as recovery from the pandemic kicks in.

Authorities were targeting more than 7 million foreign visitors for Indonesia next year, before the criminal code was announced. Despite concerns, Indonesia’s tourism minister has said the country will keep to its 7 million target.

Source: CNA/dn(ca)


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