By Stanley Widianto
JAKARTA (Reuters) -Indonesia’s parliament passed a long-awaited bill on Tuesday to tackle sexual violence, aimed at building stronger cases and helping victims to secure justice in a country where sexual abuse has often been regarded as a private matter.
A majority of lawmakers backed the bill at the plenary session in parliament, overcoming opposition from some conservative groups in the world’s biggest Muslim majority country after six years of deliberation.
“We hope that the implementation of this law will resolve sexual violence cases,” said house speaker Puan Maharani.
The legislation has been broadly welcomed by activists, though some have objected to its limited scope, with only some sex crimes included and rape omitted. The government has said rape is covered in a revision of the criminal code currently being drawn up.
“This is surely a step forward,” said Asfinawati, a law expert at Jentera school of law who has helped sexual violence victims, adding that rape should have been included in the bill.
Sexual violence complaints have been rising in Indonesia, where prosecuting crimes of a sexual nature has been complicated by the absence of specific legislation. Activists says victims’ concerns of being shamed during questioning have deterred many from speaking up.
Vivi Widyawati from the Perempuan Mahardhika, a civil society organisation that was consulted on the bill, said it was important to monitor closely how authorities enforce the law.
“For years, sexual violence wasn’t seen as something important,” she said. “What we have now is enough to resolve cases.”
The bill’s passage follows President Joko Widodo’s instruction in January to his government to expedite the legislation, which seeks to make it easier to build cases and secure convictions.
The National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) and civil society groups first proposed the idea of legislation a decade ago and a bill was submitted to the house in 2016.
HOPE FOR JUSTICE
The final draft approved on Tuesday includes prison terms of up to 12 years for crimes of physical sexual abuse, both within and outside of marriage, and 15 years for sexual exploitation.
It prescribes terms of nine years for forced marriage, which include child marriage and marriage between rapists and their victims, and four years for circulating non-consensual sexual content.
It stipulated that a court must compel convicted abusers to pay restitution and authorities to provide counselling to victims, many of which have chosen not to report abuse in the past.
“As a survivor, all this time, it was like hitting the wall,” said one victim, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.
She said she chose not to make a formal complaint against her abuser after hearing that other victims had been mistreated by authorities.
“If this bill had existed, I would’ve had more hope to find justice,” she said.
One party in parliament, the Islamist Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), had objected to the bill, saying it should regulate extramarital sex and urging a ban on relations involving what it described as “deviant” sexual orientation.
Kurniasih Mufidayati, a PKS member of parliament, told Reuters “the parliament has ignored input from the public who objected to the passing of this bill.”
(Reporting by Stanley Widianto; Editing by Martin Petty and Bernadette Baum)