Olivia’s Travel Blog – How will Indonesia’s controversial code potentially affect tourists?

Olivia Mann is joining the SMQ Legal Team from January and is currently travelling around the World – check in for interesting and often controversial legal issues she has come across upon her travels …

Upon my recent visit to the popular tourist island of Bali located in the south of Indonesia, I could not help but notice the current political debate regarding Indonesia’s penal code and how this will affect tourists such as myself visiting the country.

On 20th September 2019, the president of Indonesia, Widodo, proposed to change the criminal code punishing people who participate in sexual intercourse or cohabitation outside of marriage (The Economist, 2019). A one-year prison sentence or steep fines could be imposed on the perpetrators if a complaint has been made against them. The new legislation will also affect tourists and internationals visiting the country. Allard et al (2019) explains that this potential code has been introduced in an attempt to establish Indonesian independence within their legislation as it currently dates back to their Dutch Colonial times. If the code passes, it would be take affect approximately in two years, in order for the public and police to become familiar with the changes.

Currently within England and Wales, pre-marital sex is legal. Under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, the age of consent (legal age to have sex) is 16 years old. Whilst the taboo of pre-martial sex has been considered as a moral issue and at times a sin within many cultures, in contemporary Britain, 48% of births were outside of marriage in 2012.

This controversial Indonesian law has recently sparked many protests throughout the capital of Jakarta, with Human Rights groups arguing that this new law will violate the rights of women, religious minorities, LGBTQ+ groups as well as freedom of speech (Allard et al, 2019). The Human Rights Watch (2019), agrees that Indonesia requires a legislative reform. However, it instead must meet International Human Rights Standards. In 2016, 390,000 British nationals visited Indonesia, with many Indonesian residents arguing that this penal code may also deter tourists from visiting the country, damaging their vast tourist and hospitality industry (GOV, 2019).

Within certain countries legal systems who have a “monoculture paradigm”, where Rentein (2008) questions, should “westerners” who venture abroad be held fully responsible if they violate the law of the country they find themselves in? This is an interesting debate amongst scholars and those involved within the law, whom are eager to see what the final result will entail for Indonesia.

Reference List

1. Rentein, A.D. (2008). Cross-cultural justice and the logic of reciprocity: When Westerners run afoul of the law in other countries. Judicature, 92, p.238.

2. The Human Rights Watch. (2019). Indonesia: Draft Criminal Code Disastrous for Rights. [online]. Available at: https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/09/18/indonesia-draft-criminal-code-disastrous-rights.

3. The Economist. (2019). Indonesia’s president delays a law banning extramarital sex. [online]. Available at: https://www.economist.com/asia/2019/09/20/indonesias-president-delays-a-law-banning-extramarital-sex.

4. Allard. T., Bea Da Costa, A. (2019). Millions may risk jail as Indonesia to outlaw sex outside marriage . [online]. Available at: reuters.com/article/amp/idUSKBN1W32BV.

5. The Sexual Offences Act 2003., Available at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2003/42/pdfs/ukpga_20030042_en.pdf.

6. GOV., (2019). Foreign travel advice Indonesia. [online]. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/indonesia.


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