Indonesian couple fear pre-marital sex ban will make them criminals

Indonesian couple fear pre-marital sex ban will make them criminals

University students protest outside the Indonesian Parliament in Jakarta, Indonesia
University students protest outside the Indonesian Parliament in Jakarta, Indonesia Sep 24, 2019. (Photo: REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan)

TANGERANG, Indonesia: After 13 years of happily unmarried life that has brought them three children, one middle-aged Indonesian couple is worried.

Their relationship is neither legal nor official, and a controversial new penal code to be discussed in Indonesia's parliament could make them criminals by banning consensual sex outside marriage.

Demonstrations in Indonesia have been fuelled by a proposed Bill that includes dozens of legal changes - from criminalising pre-marital sex and restricting contraceptive sales, to making it illegal to insult the president and toughening the Muslim-majority country's blasphemy law.

Although President Joko Widodo ordered parliament to delay a vote on the legal changes last month after the street protests, Indonesians who could be affected are increasingly worried.

"If the government brings up the unofficial marriage issue again, it will be a problem and will burden our minds," said the man, who works as a porter at a clothes market.

Both he and his partner declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue in the world's most populous Muslim-majority country, where conservatism has been on the rise.

READ: Thousands rally against Indonesian Bill to ban extra-marital sex

The proposed revisions have raised fears in the tourism industry of the impact of a ban on pre-marital sex, and Australia has even issued a pre-emptive warning to citizens.

But millions of Indonesians living in unofficial relationships could be more likely targets.

Unmarried couples who "live together as a husband and wife" could face six months in jail or a maximum fine of 10 million rupiah (US$710), the equivalent of three months' salary for many Indonesians.

Like the couple who spoke to Reuters Video News, they are often in "Siri" marriages that are accepted from a religious perspective but have never been registered.

"The lawmakers assess it as adultery," said the woman, who works as a domestic helper. "(But) this is my responsibility to my God, in the eyes of the religion, or according to the religion, we have been officially united together."

One concern the couple has is financial – they are not unwilling to get married, they just can't afford it.

"We will follow as long as the government lets us get married for free and provides documents to us," the man said.

Source: Reuters/aa