Indonesia passes landmark bill to tackle sexual violence

The bill was first proposed in 2012 but encountered opposition from more conservative groups in the mostly Muslim country.

An Indonesian woman in a black headscarf walks past murals protesting against sexual abuse during a Jakarta protest
Activists have been campaigning for years for tougher laws on sexual assault [File: Adek Berry/AFP]

Six years after deliberations first began, Indonesia’s parliament has passed a landmark bill to tackle sexual violence, aimed at providing a legal framework for victims to seek justice.

A majority of lawmakers backed the bill at the plenary session in parliament, overcoming opposition from some conservative groups in the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country.

“We hope that the implementation of this law will resolve sexual violence cases,” speaker of the house Puan Maharani said.

The bill has been broadly welcomed by activists, though some have objected to its limited scope, with only some sex crimes included and the omission of a specific clause on rape which the government has said will be included in other legislation.

“This is surely a step forward,” said Asfinawati, a law expert at Jentera School of Law, who has assisted sexual violence victims, while noting that definitions of rape currently covered under the criminal code should still be made clearer.

Sexual violence complaints have been rising in Indonesia, where prosecuting sex crimes has been complicated by the absence of a dedicated legal framework, while victims’ concerns of being shamed during questioning have deterred many from speaking up, according to activists.

The final draft of the law includes prison terms of up to 12 years for crimes of physical sexual abuse, both in marriage and outside, 15 years for sexual exploitation, nine years for forced marriage, including child marriage, and four years for circulating non-consensual sexual content.

It stipulated that a court must compel convicted abusers to pay restitution and authorities to provide counselling to victims.

Under earlier proposals, the legislation would have also covered abortion and provided a clearer definition of what constituted rape.

The National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) and civil society groups first proposed legislation in 2012, and a bill was submitted to the house four years later after the shocking gang rape and murder of a 13-year-old schoolgirl by more than a dozen men.

In January, President Joko Widodo told his government to expedite the new law.

The Islamist Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) continued to object to the bill, saying it should legislate against extramarital sex. It has also called for a ban on sexual relations based on what it described as “deviant” sexual orientation.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies