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Can Indonesia’s Love Law Ensure Domestic Harmony?

There are risks with making cohabitation illegal, so striking a balance is essential.

Living together should find a balance in Indonesia's law. (IqbalStock/Pixabay)

By Susilowati Suparto, Padjadjaran University

BANDUNG, April 15 – When Indonesia announced a new law that meant unmarried couples who choose to live together could face jail time, it sparked a media frenzy around the world.

The UN called the law a threat to human rights. There were concerns foreign tourists could be arrested and imprisoned — newspapers in Australia shouted about a “Bali bonk ban” — though officials were quick to allay those fears.

Under the revised code, which legislators said would uphold Indonesian values, police could only act if family members or spouses made a complaint about a couple.

For one political candidate in South Sumatra, however, it was complaints from neighbours that landed him and his partner in trouble. Instead of contacting police, residents took the law into their own hands.

The man claimed he already performed “siri” (unregistered Islamic marriage) but this was deemed invalid because he did not use a legal marriage guardian.

While the case was settled amicably, it highlighted one of the problems surrounding cohabitation in Indonesia. From local culture and values, cohabitation is also known as kumpul kebo (originally Dutch “koempoel gebouw” or together under the same roof). 

Indonesia’s Civil Code does not specifically regulate the prohibition of cohabitation. But it is considered a crime under the Criminal Code.

The challenge for Indonesia is striking a balance between “Indonesian values” and the rights of private citizens.

After the initial reaction to the new code, Indonesia’s Minister of Law and Human Rights responded that police could only act if there was a complaint from parents or a spouse. So, for foreigners, as long as there is no complaint, the authorities cannot act.

The danger, of course, is  an increase in unjustified police and vigilante raids targeting family members based solely on suspicion. 

It may also embolden abusive family members to falsely accuse domestic violence survivors of crimes. 

Criminalising the act of  living together also violates people’s privacy, which is protected by international human rights law such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Indonesia is obligated to uphold.

There are opinions that issues of decency should not be regulated by the state. 

Many assert that the state has entered the realm of private life. The “interest” of cohabitation intervention by the Indonesian state in this case is based on the first principle of “God Almighty” in its state’s ideology (Pancasila) as a sign that Indonesians hold religious principles. 

Many religions do not allow adultery for married or unmarried couples.

The separation of private life is a challenge for countries that recognise the principle of divinity such as Indonesia.

Indeed, there are many challenges in implementing this cohabitation rule in Indonesia.

As a country that holds the principle of religious diversity, cohabitation does need to be regulated specifically. 

In designing a law or formulating a rule of law, it must lead to the formation of rules that can accommodate the needs of the times. 

But it must also fulfil a sense of justice for the community in the long term by looking at the cultural and philosophical aspects of the nation.

Susilowati Suparto is a lecturer in the Civil Law Department at the Padjadjaran University’s Faculty of Law. 

Article courtesy of 360info. 

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