Indonesia passes landmark law on sexual violence - but rape left out

Law excludes rape which has been a widespread concern in Indonesia

Arpan Rai
Tuesday 12 April 2022 13:27
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<p>Speaker of the House Puan Maharani waves after Indonesia’s parliament passed a bill to tackle sexual violence, in Jakarta, Indonesia</p>

Speaker of the House Puan Maharani waves after Indonesia’s parliament passed a bill to tackle sexual violence, in Jakarta, Indonesia

Indonesia’s parliament in a landmark move on Tuesday cleared a bill against sexual violence that criminalised some crimes and allowed rehabilitation for survivors, but omitted rape from its ambit.

The country’s House of Representatives assented to the RUU Tindak Pidana Kekerasan Seksual (RUU TPKS) bill, making it a law with a majority vote after six years of deliberation.

“This is a gift to all Indonesian women and the people of Indonesia,” an emotional speaker Puan Maharani said, wiping a tear from her eyes.

"We hope that the implementation of this law will resolve sexual violence cases," the speaker said.

With the approved legislation, the country will recognise crimes of sexual violence, punishment for the accused, special procedural law with a victim-centric approach aiming to provide access to respite financially and rehabilitation for survivors.

It will also identify and categorise criminal acts and partially regulated crimes like sexual harassment, forced contraception, forced sterilisation, nonconsensual marriages, sexual assault, sexual slavery and exploitation, and cyber crimes, according to a report by local publication Tempo.

This law also makes Indonesia a first among the Muslim-majority nations to have legalised a bill on sexual offences, despite objection from conservative parties in the country.

Under the final draft, the bill provisions for prison terms up to 12 years for crimes of physical sexual abuse — within and outside of marriage — and 15 years of jail term for sexual exploitation.

For the offence of forced marriage, a person guilty will be sentenced for nine years, which includes child marriage and marriage of rapists to their victims.

Those circulating non-consensual sexual content will be punished with four years in jail in this law.

The newly-approved legislation also noted the obligation on part of a court to direct convicted abusers to pay restitution.

Human rights activists, lawmakers and international groups welcomed the long-awaited bill, calling it a progressive step in the direction for handling sexual crimes.

However, in a drawback, the law excluded rapes, which has been a widespread concern in the country. Law expert at Jentera school of law Asfinawati called it “surely a step forward” but added that the authorities should have included the rape crimes in the bill.

“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,” the United Nations in Indonesia said in a statement. But the government said it has covered rape in a revision of the criminal code which is a work in progress at the moment.

It added that the bill’s passage into law will “enable survivors of sexual violence to seek justice and hold perpetrators accountable.”

It will also create a safer environment for women and girls, the statement read.

Indonesia has witnessed an increase in reports of sexual violence with a weaker legal framework in the absence of specific laws to hand out punishments to the convicts.

Many activists have pointed out the tedious process of questioning which often resulted in shaming the survivors, forcing them to not speak up.

"For years, sexual violence wasn’t seen as something important. What we have now is enough to resolve cases," said Vivi Widyawati from the Perempuan Mahardhika, a civil society organisation that was consulted on the bill.

It will be important to see how authorities now enforce the law, Ms Widyawati said.

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