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Cracking Down on Sex—and Contraception—in Indonesia

Sex Outside of Marriage Could Get 5 Years in Prison

Lawmakers in Indonesia have decided they need to make their presence felt – in the nation’s bedrooms.

In the context of a new criminal code being debated by the legislature, some members of Indonesia’s House of Representatives want language added that would make anyone who has sex outside of marriage subject to prosecution – with a sentence of up to five years’ imprisonment.

Indonesian lawmakers have been working since the 1960s to develop a modernized criminal code to replace the current code, which is based on the colonial Dutch East Indies law from 1918. The process has been a long and complicated one.

Indonesian law already includes a troubling provision allowing the prosecution of people who are married and engage in adultery, and unmarried people who have sex with a married person. Such prosecutions are permitted only when the spouse of the person having an affair complains, and the maximum sentence is nine months in jail. This means the proposed law would threaten many more people with prosecution, and impose a much harsher punishment.

Proponents of this law, who also seek to criminalize same-sex conduct, have taken their cause to the Constitutional Court. The court is currently deliberating on a suit demanding revisions to the criminal code that include specifically criminalizing same-sex conduct, as well as sex outside of marriage generally – a big step backwards for Indonesia.

The proposal has a serious chance of passing. It is backed by seven different political parties, who together hold just over 50 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives.

There is also a proposal to make it a crime for any unauthorized person to distribute contraceptive supplies, or even information about contraception. This measure could restrict handing out contraceptives to medical professionals and pharmacists, while barring other service providers and advocates for reproductive health and LGBT rights from even talking about contraception, including condom use. Such a law could leave millions of Indonesians struggling to obtain the information and products they need to make their own choices about having children, and to protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases.

These efforts to crack down on personal decisions about sex and family planning would, if they became law, violate rights to privacy, autonomy, and health that are protected under international law that Indonesia has committed to uphold. They come on the heels of an increasing clampdown on the rights of LGBT people.

Indonesia’s lawmakers should spend less time trying to control other peoples’ sex lives and reproduction. Instead, they should focus on the crucial work necessary to develop a new criminal code that can help ensure all Indonesians have access to justice.

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