Explainer: Why is Indonesia’s sexual violence law so important? | Sexual Assault News

Medan, Indonesia – With the attack of a pickaxe, Indonesia’s controversial sexual violence bill passed into law by parliament.

When lawmakers stood up on Tuesday to welcome the passage of the long-awaited bill, House Speaker Puan Maharani was emotional.

“This act is a gift to all Indonesian women,” she said.

The bill, known as RUU TPKS, has been around for a long time.

First proposed in 2012, it has faced difficulties opposition from conservative groups who debated everything from the name to the content of the law itself, asking for amendments several times in an effort to ease passage of the law.

Elizabeth Ghozali, a criminal law lecturer at the Catholic University of Santo Thomas in Medan, told Al Jazeera that the bill is a landmark piece of legislation that ultimately puts the rights of victims first.

“Previously, Indonesian law focused only on punishment in cases of sexual violence. That is considered the entire scope of the law and a sign that it did its job,” she said.

“We need progressive legislation in Indonesia that thinks about the victims and meets their rights.”

What does the law cover?

The new law sets out nine different types of sexual abuse, including physical and non-physical abuse, forced contraception, forced sterilization, forced marriage, sexual torture, and sexual exploitation. , sex slavery and sexual abuse through electronic means.

It allows prison sentences of up to 12 years for physical sexual abuse, 15 years for sexual exploitation, 9 years for forced marriage, including child marriage, and 4 years for domestic circulation. non-consensual sex.

Importantly, the law also recognizes sexual abuse both inside and outside of marriage. Indonesia’s current Penal Code does not recognize marital rape.

The law also recognizes other forms of sexual abuse such as rape, pornography, sexual violence against children, pornography and forced prostitution, although these are also included in other sections. of the Indonesian Penal Code and other specific laws such as the Child Protection Law of Indonesia.

The law also provides that victims of sexual violence receive rehabilitation and counseling.

According to Usman Hamid, head of Amnesty Indonesia, the law is “a long-term step forward to protect the rights of victims of sexual violence in Indonesia”.

“This historic moment was only possible through the persistence and hard work of civil society organisations, especially women’s rights groups, as well as survivors of domestic and sexual violence. themselves, who have been continuously working to raise awareness of the urgency of this issue for almost a decade,” he told Al Jazeera.

What does it not include?

The new law does not cover rape or forced abortion, although it does recognize rape as a form of sexual abuse.

While some groups have criticized these shortcomings, both offenses are already covered by Indonesia’s Penal Code.

Why is the new law deemed necessary?

According to Tunggal Pawestri, an Indonesian women’s rights activist, the new law is urgently needed.

“We really lacked support for the victims,” she told Al Jazeera.

A fundamental change in the new law is the approach to the submission of evidence. Under Indonesian law, two (or more) items of evidence typically must be presented in a criminal case, but the new bill allows for one item of evidence in addition to the victim’s testimony.

There are also changes regarding the type of evidence that can be used.

“We don’t yet have comprehensive support for victims, such as accepting a psychologist’s statement as evidence, and we don’t recognize non-physical sexual harassment, so this law really does. the importance of providing legal, economic and psychological support to victims,” Pawestri said.

“It will also change the way our law enforcement agencies treat victims of sexual violence.”

In addition to allowing a new set of evidence, such as psychological and medical reports, to be submitted, the new law stipulates that Indonesian police are not allowed to refuse a report of sexual abuse and are obligated to investigate. check.

Restorative justice, in which a financial settlement can be reached to prevent a case from going to court, is also no longer permitted in cases of sexual violence.

Why does it take 10 years to pass?

“Conservative Muslim parties in the Council of People’s Representative (DPR), most notably the Muslim Prosperity Justice Party (PKS), have blocked the law for more than five years since it was enacted. for the first time,” Alexander Arifianto, a research fellow at the Indonesia Program at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, told Al Jazeera.

“But the law has been supported by moderate Muslim parties, most notably the National Awakening Party of Indonesia (PKB) and its main constituent organization, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the major Muslim organization. best in Indonesia.”

“NU high-ranking female figures such as Yenny and Alissa Wahid, both daughters of the late Abdurrahman Wahid, who was the leader of NU and the 4th President of Indonesia, supported the TPKS bill for renewable energy. for it.”

One of the reasons the PKS opposes the bill has to do with its mention of sex slavery and sexual abuse both inside and outside of marriage, which the party says may violate Islamic law, they say. requires wives to obey their husbands in family relationships.

The PKS also objected to the bill’s name, which was originally RUU PKS and had to be changed to RUU TPKS to avoid any accidental references to political parties.

What happens next?

The law went into effect shortly after its passage on Tuesday, although people will now be closely watching to see how it is enforced across the archipelago, as well as pushing for further amendments to the law. Current law.

Amnesty’s Hamid said: “While the bill is a welcome piece of legislation, it is far from perfect.

“We call on the government and the House of Commons to ensure that the rape-related provisions of the draft Penal Code amendments are consistent with the bill to combat sexual violence and put the rights of the victim first.” .

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