Bali’s Governor Has Weighed In On What Exactly Indonesia’s New ‘Sex Ban’ Means For Tourists

A couple in a pool in Indonesia

Bali’s governor confirmed tourists won’t be affected by Indonesia’s “sex ban” after the country introduced a sweeping new criminal code which features laws against non-marital sex and co-habitation before marriage.

Considering Indonesia is such a hub for tourism, folks have been wondering what the new code will mean for both locals and visitors.

Governor Wayan Koster said in a statement that folks who “visit or live in Bali would not need to worry about… the Indonesian Criminal Code”.

He explained there wouldn’t be checks “on marital statuses at tourist accommodations like hotels, villas, guest houses or spas, or inspections by public officials or community groups”.

Per CNN, Wayan said Bali was “comfortable and safe to visit”.

So y’know, good news for your holibob bonk plans.

But the code has been widely criticised.

Human Rights Watch described the new laws as “disastrous” while the United Nations said it’s “concerned” about the code.

“Some articles have the potential to criminalise journalistic work and impinge upon press freedom,” the UN said.

It highlighted laws with the potential to discriminate against “sexual minorities”, women, boys and girls. It also said the laws could “adversely affect” sexual and reproductive rights, the right to privacy and exacerbate gender, sexual orientation and gender identity-based violence. 

What are Indonesia’s new laws?

Lawmakers unanimously voted to introduce the criminal code on December 6, though it won’t come into effect for three years.

As well as the “morality” laws around sex and living together, the ban includes laws about a whole host of things, including insulting public officials like the president.

What should travellers to Indonesia be aware of?

It was initially reported that the criminal code applied to both locals and visitors.

However, the country’s deputy justice minister Edward Omar Sharif Hiariej has now said foreigners wouldn’t face prosecution according to the BBC.

“I want to emphasise for foreign tourists, please come to Indonesia because you will not be charged with this article,” he said.

The max punishment for sex outside marriage is up to a year in jail, while the max fine is 10 million rupiahs or approximately AUD$995.

The breaking of “moral” laws can only be reported to police by a direct family member, such as a husband, wife, child or parent.

Professor Ken Setiawan from the Asia Institute at the University of Melbourne previously told the ABC those limitations would likely reduce the risk of visitors being charged with an offence.

“Those limitations are there. That does decrease the risk that foreigners would be prosecuted,” she said.

According to the ABC, I Nyoman Rudiarta from the Badung Tourism Office had also told Detik News there would be “no sweeping legal action against tourists”.

Travel site Honeycombers Bali shared a post on Instagram to dispel potential tourist fears, debunking some of the rumours around the code.

The company pointed out the laws don’t come into effect until 2025, and clarified that couples don’t have to book seperate hotel rooms.

“This law doesn’t particularly affect tourists, but we do hope certain changes are made if it comes into effect in 2025, to protect certain freedoms of the local community,” it wrote.

Despite those provisions, the code has resoundingly slammed by the tourism industry.

Association of The Indonesian Tours And Travel Agencies chairman Puta Winastra initially called the move “counterproductive”.

“From our point of view as tourism industry players, this law will be very counterproductive for the tourism industry in Bali — particularly the chapters about sex and marriage,” he said.

Bali-based hotel owner Gunn Wibisono told The Guardian on December 8 he was worried about how the laws would affect his business.

“When tourists come here, they want to know it’s a safe space,” he said.

At the moment it’s also not clear how the laws will impact LGBTQIA+ people ‘cos same-sex marriage isn’t legal in Indonesia.

Dr Setiawan told the ABC the laws “do place risks” for the LGBTQIA+ community.

“Apart from the sex outside marriage provision, there’s also a provision that prevents cohabitation, so that also makes it possible that gay couples that live together in Indonesia can be arrested,” she said.

But Wibisono, who is a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, told The Guardianhe was more concerned for “young heterosexual couples” at the moment.

The Government’s Smart Traveller site has been updated to reflect the changing laws. It recommends staying up to date and subscribing to travel advice.