Indonesia has officially passed legislation that is being highly debated. The news has triggered much concern for many travelers planning to visit Bali soon. While the new laws apply to all people in Indonesia, whether citizens or visitors, there are only very specific circumstances whereby unmarried foreigners in Bali could fall on the wrong side of the law.
On the 6th of December 2022, the parliament in Indonesia signed off on significant revisions to the Indonesian Criminal Code (RKUJP). The huge changes have bought about genuine concerns for Indonesian citizens as the legislation does not only criminalize cohabitation and sex before marriage but a swathe of other political freedoms.
While much of the media is honing in on ‘Bali’s Bonking Ban’, many have argued that the limiting of freedoms and rights for Indonesian people should be of primary focus.
Nevertheless, travelers’ concerns over what the new laws mean for them as tourists in Indonesia are valid. The updates to the law have only been passed in parliament, it will take up to three years for them to come into effect. Legal specialists envisage there being a further backlash against the new laws that could slow the process further. Many political commentators have suggested that the new rules will be tricky to enforce.
The law states that only a person close to the couple can report them to the police. In this regard, only someone who the relationship could negatively impact can report co-habiting or sex before marriage to the police, such as a parent, a child, or a spouse, in the incidence of an extra-marital affair.
Therefore, there are only a few scenarios where foreign tourists in Bali could get themselves in hot water. The most likely situation would be where a foreigner hooks up with or gets into a relationship with, or starts living with, an Indonesian person. If a close family member, such as a parent or sibling, disapproves and reports the couple to the police, an investigation may be launched and charges made.
Another scenario, an unlikely one at that, is that an unmarried foreign couple goes on holiday to Indonesia with their own families and their family members report them to the police locally. So, despite the backlash and confusion online, it is clear that unmarried couples do not need to make any immediate changes to their travel plans to Bali.
Even hoteliers in Bali are concerned about the implications of the law on their services. Although Bali is making efforts to stamp out badly behaved tourists, on the whole, the island is very lenient when it comes to unmarried couples.
Sex outside of marriage has been illegal in Indonesia for decades. However, it was the case that charges could only be bought by an aggrieved spouse in the case of an affair. The law has been largely unenforced in Bali and other liberal areas of Indonesia.
Indonesia is made up of 17,000 islands and has a huge range of cultural, social, and political diversity. Many areas are further governed by local laws, some of which override national laws. Aceh Province in Sumatra, for example, is governed by Sharia law and central government legislation. The province is incredibly conservative and has strict morals and little leniency regarding behavior that goes against cultural expectations.
In Bali, an area that values tourism and largely depends on international tourism, most people see the law change as nothing to worry about. Speaking to reporters, a New Zealander living in Bali with his wife explained that he doesn’t; think the law will impact holidaymakers. It is tricky to see the benefit for tourism providers in Bali to report unmarried couples to the police.
It remains to be seen whether police would be allowed to act on reports from parties other than close relatives, such as a hotel owner. Caterer Matt said, “People are very worried and many thinking of canceling their holidays. I don’t think this will happen, nor is it anything to worry about.”
Interestingly, Indonesian Justice Minister Yasonna Laoly told reports that she expects there to be a dialogue about the new laws despite strict policies on freedom of speech. He said, “Our society is multicultural and multiethnic, it’s impossible to accommodate 100 percent of all interests. We have no intention to silence critics”.
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