Next Steps Towards Reform: Assessing good practice and gaps in Commonwealth sexual offences legislation in Asia

This report examines the status of sexual offences legislation in Commonwealth Asia, assessing good practice and identifying where there are gaps in protection, with a particular focus on women, children, LGBT+ people and people with disability.

This report is part of a research series commissioned by the Human Dignity Trust on behalf of the Equality & Justice Alliance, as part of a 2-year programme announced by the UK Government in April 2018.

A core focus of the 2-year programme was support for reform of colonial-era sexual offences laws that discriminate against women and girls and LGBT+ people, among others. As part of that support, the Trust—with the assistance of experts from around the Commonwealth—produced research and information designed to inform, inspire and assist Commonwealth governments that are considering embarking on reform of these laws. The research was Commonwealth-focused enabling member states to learn from other countries in the Commonwealth that have already successfully undertaken reforms.

The research series, concluding in 2020, builds on previous research commissioned by the Human Dignity Trust on good practice, human rights compliant sexual offences laws in the Commonwealth. It assesses this legislation in all fifty-three members of the Commonwealth against a series of criteria in the following areas of law: sexual assault; child sexual assault; disability and sexual offences; and, consensual same-sex sexual activity.

The report is divided into three parts. Part A provides the overview and background to the research. Part B describes and briefly explains the good practice criteria used in the study. Part C contains brief country reports and a checklist chart for every Commonwealth country in Asia. It also contains a comparative chart for Asia as a whole.

This report specifically outlines the situation in the Asian region. The Asian region of the Commonwealth comprises seven countries. Outdated sexual offences laws are still in force across the region, at least in some of the areas assessed in this report. A small number of countries in the region have made some important reforms, for example overhauling child sexual offences (e.g. Malaysia), criminalising marital rape (e.g. Singapore) and expressly stating in the law that evidence of resistance is not required to prove absence of consent to sexual acts (e.g. Sri Lanka). For many countries in this region, there is a large gap between good practice sexual offences legislation and the law in force.

Several countries in this region have multiple legal systems, including Sharia or Islamic law, which may include sexual offences. Applicable common law and case law may also be relevant. These laws have not been assessed in this report as they are outside its scope, with the exception of Brunei Darussalam, which has legislated Sharia sexual offences laws. Part C of the report analyses the landscape in individual Commonwealth countries in the region against the good practice criteria.

This report is intended primarily for use by government officials interested in reforming their country’s sexual offences laws, law reform commissioners and experts, and advocates seeking reform in their country or region. Those working on sexual offences law reform in their country can use this report as a starting point in the law reform process.

Download the report