Indonesian parliament passes historic law targeting sexual violence

Dandy Koswaraputra
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Indonesian parliament passes historic law targeting sexual violence Speaker of the House Puan Maharani waves after Indonesia’s parliament passed a bill to tackle sexual violence, in Jakarta, April 12, 2022.
[Antara Foto via Reuters]

After years of delays, Indonesia’s parliament passed a landmark law on Tuesday to punish sexual violence that, analysts say, provides a victim-centered approach for securing justice amid rising sexual abuse.

Under the law, types of sexual violence include both physical and non-physical sexual harassment, electronic-based sexual harassment, sexual torture, forced contraception, forced sterilization, sexual exploitation, forced marriage, and sex slavery.

“Today’s plenary session is a historic moment that the nation has been waiting for,” House of Representatives’ Speaker Puan Maharani said. “Today’s passage of the bill on sexual violence is a testament to the struggle of victims of sexual violence.”

The new law defines sexual crimes to include lewd acts, sexual exploitation of children, non-consensual indecent acts and child pornography.

Cases of violence against women in Southeast Asia’s most populous nation rose to 8,800 in 2021, from 8,600 the previous year, according to the Indonesian Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection.

Physical violence accounted for 39 percent of the cases, followed by psychological violence (29.8 percent) and sexual violence (11.3 percent), data from the ministry showed.

The law’s passage is a good first step in efforts to stamp out sexual violence, said Johanna Purba, a researcher at the Center for Law and Policy Studies.

“But yes, there are also shortcomings, such as the absence of provisions on rape,” Johanna told BenarNews.

“Our next agenda is to push for more comprehensive provisions on rape and forced abortions in the revised bill on the Criminal Code,” which is being deliberated in parliament, she said.

Still, despite these shortcomings, Indonesia now has a law that specifically deals with sexual violence, The Jakarta Post newspaper wrote in an editorial Tuesday.

“It promotes a victim-centered approach by providing victims with access to restitution from a so-called victims’ trust fund, integrated services to handle cases and victim rehabilitation,” the editorial said.

“It also contains an expanded definition of sexual violence, namely physical and nonphysical sexual harassment, sexual torture, forced contraception, forced sterilization, forced marriage, sexual slavery, sexual exploitation and cybersexual harassment.”

‘A comprehensive legal umbrella’

The bill had been held up for the past few years, with some Muslim groups arguing that the new law would promote extramarital sex and homosexuality.

On Tuesday, the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) was the only parliamentary faction opposed to the bill on the grounds that the proposed legislation does not criminalize sex outside of marriage, or homosexual relations.

Al Muzzammil Yusuf, a PKS legislator, said his faction rejected all forms of sexual violence and supported efforts to protect victims.

At the same time, “the PKS faction is also deeply concerned about the growing prevalence of extra-marital sex, promiscuity, and deviant sexual behavior,” Muzzammil told BenarNews.

But for Luluk Nur Hamidah, a lawmaker from the National Awakening Party (PKB), the 10-year-wait for the legislation was finally over.

“We are now well equipped to prevent sexual violence,” Luluk told the parliamentary session.

Tunggal Pawestri, a prominent women’s rights activist, also welcomed the bill’s passage.

“I’m touched because this is the fruit of the tireless advocacy work, despite exhaustion (physical and mental), by all groups, especially survivors and their companions,” Tunggal said on Twitter.

Parliament passed the billed just over a week after a court in the Sumatran city of Pekanbaru acquitted a lecturer at the University of Riau whom a female student had accused of sexual harassment.

Activists said Syafri’s acquittal underscored the difficulty of bringing perpetrators of sexual violence to justice.

Maidina Rahmawati, a researcher at the Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, said the new law emphasizes respect for human dignity, non-discrimination, the best interests of victims and justice.

“The passage of the bill is important to strengthen state responsibility to prevent and handle cases of sexual violence and protect and rehabilitate victims,” Maidina told BenarNews.

Maidina said the law also provides more rights to victims of sexual violence, including the right to treatment, the right to protection and the right to financial support.

Meanwhile, the United Nations office in Indonesia welcomed the passing of the bill.

“It is a victory for all women, girls, and victims and survivors of sexual violence in Indonesia who have the fundamental right to protection under a comprehensive legal umbrella,” it said in a statement. 

“The Sexual Violence Crime Bill delivers a long-awaited legal framework for handling sexual violence. Although the bill has its shortcomings in terms of adopting a narrower scope of types of violence considered, it is an important step in the right direction.”


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