Debate on Indonesia Sex Abuse Bill to Resume After Six Years
(Bloomberg) -- Indonesia’s parliament will resume deliberation of a bill against sexual harassment on Tuesday, as President Joko Widodo pushes to conclude a legislative process that’s languished for six years amid strong opposition from religious groups.
Jokowi, as the president is popularly known, last week publicly urged his ministers to speed up negotiations with parliament over the draft law. The bill as it stands now would allow immediate action be taken over reported cases of sexual harassment based on a single piece of evidence, down from the current requirement of three. It is aimed at giving priority to protecting victims and includes clauses on guidance for their healing process.
“I hope the anti-sexual-violence bill can be passed into law very soon to give maximum protection to the victims,” Jokowi said in a statement broadcast on YouTube on Jan. 4.
The bill, if passed this year, would make Indonesia among the first Muslim-majority nations to have a dedicated law on sexual violence, generally considered a private matter that has made it difficult for the legal system to intervene. Some Islamist parties and religious groups say that the bill promotes extramarital sex, which has held up the legislative process.
The latest version of the draft has been watered down in the hopes that it can win over more conservative lawmakers. Among the changes are the omission of an article which requires that parties involved in a sexual act give their consent, which critics argued promotes extramarital affairs, said Willy Aditya, a deputy chairman of the parliament’s legislative body.
Parliamentary speaker Puan Maharani on Tuesday set the anti-sexual harassment bill one of the priority draft laws that will be passed no later than Feb. 18. The granddaughter of the nation’s first president Sukarno pledged to expedite the deliberation.
Jokowi’s push came in response to rising public concern over the country’s lack of adequate laws and regulations to try cases of sexual abuse, which have been increasing in the past year.
The National Commission on Violence Against Women received over 4,500 reports of sexual harassment against women during the January to September period last year, according to Chairwoman Andy Yentriyani, from 2,389 reported cases for the whole of 2020. Cases in 2020 were already 60% higher than those reported in 2019.
The commission initiated the idea in 2012 and asked parliament to include a bill against sexual harassment on its list of priorities. A formal process to introduce a draft law began in 2016, but progress stalled due to resistance from conservative groups.
In Indonesia, there is no single law dedicated to sexual harassment, and such offenses are covered by a wider set of laws that fail to protect the victims, with cases often ending in the release of offenders and victim blaming, said Yentriyani.
Among recent high-profile cases of abuse are one involving multiple instances of rape by the owner of an Islamic boarding school in West Java, and a teacher in Central Java who molested 15 female students in return for good grades. Those incidents have angered the public and added pressure on parliament to pass the bill sooner.
Those cases also prompted Nadiem Makarim, a minister overseeing several briefs including education, to take more direct action against sexual harassment. In November, he issued a ministerial decree aimed at protecting university students from sexual crimes, a move that was hailed by proponents of the draft law but protested by the same parties and religious groups that oppose it.
The Prosperous Justice Party, a major Islamist party, is expected to put up resistance to the passage of the new draft law. If it successfully rallies support from more hardline lawmakers, that could stymie its passage.
“Patriarchy is still prevalent in our society,” said Aditya, who nonetheless expects the bill to pass in this parliamentary sitting. “The road ahead is still long and winding.”
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