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Indonesian Sexual Violence Bill Faces Religious Opposition


FILE - Activists hold a vigil for a teenage girl who was raped and murdered, in Jakarta, Indonesia, May 4, 2016.
FILE - Activists hold a vigil for a teenage girl who was raped and murdered, in Jakarta, Indonesia, May 4, 2016.

Indonesia's landmark sexual violence bill, which advocates say would be the first legal basis for cases of sexual abuse in the country, is facing opposition from conservative groups, putting its passage in doubt.

The opposition is mostly based on Islamic religious grounds. According to a petition circulated by a university lecturer, Maimon Herawati, on (which has garnered almost 150,000 signatures), the sexual violence bill negates the violation of Indonesia’s social norms and encourages, for example, premarital (albeit consensual) sex and prostitution.

“There is a gap purposefully made so that stowaways could come in,” Herawati wrote in the petition, referring to those whose “deviant” crimes involve homosexual sex and abortion. “No rules against sexual crimes, which are those that violate social and religious norms.”

One faction in the House of Representatives, the Islamic-oriented Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), has also rejected the bill under similar grounds, running counter to factions from two of the biggest parties in the legislative body, The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggles (PDIP) and Gerindra, which support the bill.

In a statement obtained by VOA, Ledia Hanifa Amaliah, an Indonesian politician from the PKS, said that the party does not fully object to the bill, but that some wording needs to be changed and it should be more in line with Islamic views.

“The PKS faction is of the opinion that religiosity should be one of the perspectives needed to prevent sexual crimes,” she wrote.

Ratna Batara Munti, a lawyer and a coordinator of a civil group that is pushing for the bill, accused opponents of spreading hoaxes as soon as the bill gained traction in recent months.

“This is a deliberate duping,” she said, referring to the allegations that the law would encourage premarital sex, homosexual sex or prostitution. She said the misinformation could be detrimental to the bill’s prospects for passage.

Sexual violence bill

The sexual violence bill is considered to be a legal breakthrough for Indonesian women over the current law in Indonesia’s criminal code. According to Mariana Amiruddin, commissioner at The National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan), the main difference between the bill and the existing law is that the former is predicated on preventive and rehabilitative measures.

“The sexual violence bill includes the protection of the victims, and the handling of cases of sexual violence,” she told VOA. “Whereas the criminal code traffics in norms and general decency.” In the criminal code, there are no ways, for instance, for rape victims to access rehabilitative measures—something that the bill would provide.

Available on the House of Representatives’ website, the bill, proposed since 2017, ensures the rights of victims and the rights of the victims’ families. Moreover, the bill presides over more specific cases, such as forced abortion, marriage or contraception. The bill also lays out the punishment for the perpetrators, which includes imprisonment and rehabilitation.

The bill is also in keeping with a number of commitments to end discrimination against women, including Indonesia’s ratification of The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) by the United Nations.

Though the initiative has gained traction in recent months among the leading political factions, the government is still slated to discuss the bill at length with the House of Representatives later this year before it could be passed, according to the lawyer Munti.

“They have expressed their commitment to pass it this year, but there’s no guarantee that it will be carried [over to] the next administration,” Amiruddin said, referring to the presidential and legislative elections in April.

Sexual abuse cases in Indonesia

In a 2018 report by Komnas Perempuan, the commission noted that the total number of reported violence cases in 2017 ballooned from the previous year, reaching 348,446. Most of the tally came from cases of domestic violence.

But the most recent high-profile case was a rape of a university student at the Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta. Drawing a backlash from the public, the university announced last week that the case has been settled with no legal repercussions for the perpetrator, who has admitted to the crime.