Australians are calling a new law banning premarital sex and cohabitation the “Bali Bonk Ban” and fears are growing that the new law will decimate tourism in Indonesia. The problem for tourism is not so much the law itself as much as the uncertainty it brings.
“Bali Bonk Ban” And The Legal Uncertainty It Brings
Indonesia relies heavily on foreign tourism and after years of pursuing a cautious approach to re-opening due to COVID-19, has now reopened its borders. However, a new threat faces the tourism industry in the form of a controversial new law.
The law itself, at least in its current form, bans unmarried couples from living together and prohibits premarital sex (and also restricts political and religious freedoms). Under the new law, which has been ratified but will not go into effect for three years, unmarried couples caught in a sexual act can be jailed for up to one year. Those found cohabitating while not married could be jailed for up to six months. Indonesia’s Islamic government has steadily moved in the country in a more conservative social direction in the preceding years and the new law is seen as a logical extension of Indonesia’s attempt to remake society into a more conservative one.
There’s a twist to the law, though, that makes it unlikely most tourists have anything to worry about. Rather than morality police going from door to door or being stationed in hotel lobbies, the law requires that a parent, spouse, or child of the offender file the complaint, which will then prompt an investigation. In that sense, it is unlikely that an unmarried Australian couple or other foreign visitors will come under any scrutiny for sharing a bed. Yet the law does not preclude such enforcement action. On the contrary, it explicitly places visitors on notice that they also fall under this new law.
I am of the opinion that cohabitation and premarital sex do not promote human flourishing. But I rather think that such choices should be voluntary rather than mandated by the government. On a fundamental level, I believe that privacy in those intimate areas of life outweighs any collective good that comes through such social engineering. Furthermore, the law leads to tremendous uncertainty, which undermines the sort of assurances inherent in building a tourist-friendly economy.
In terms of tourism, the largest issue is not so much that tourists realistically face prison time or fines for sharing a bed with their unmarried partner, but the possibility that they might; that their actions run afoul of law and selective enforcement could still result in legal jeopardy.
Just as many travelers avoid the Middle East even though Gulf nations rarely enforce their strict laws on sexual matters, so will many now avoid Indonesia.
A new Indonesian law addressing sex and cohabitation outside of marriage is now law and will take effect in three years. In almost all intimate areas, the power of persuasion should be the tool of correction rather than the force of government. For the sake of the millions of Indonesians who rely upon tourism for their survival, I hope the unintended consequences of this new law will not be as disastrous as has been predicted.