Tougher penalties for adultery

Editorial, Normal

The National, Wednesday October 28th, 2015

 THE adultery case involving Kokopo Mayor Diuvia Kopman highlights the frivolous nature of the penalty associated with this offence in Papua New Guinea.

Kopman and his co-accused were found guilty by the Kokopo District Court and fined K510 each.

While Kokopo District Court magistrate George Kerker’s decision was confined to the existing law on adultery, many right-thinking citizens will agree that the penalty was pathetic compared to the seriousness of the offence.

So whose side is the current adultery law on? 

Somehow it does not favour the aggrieved party or parties and their children whose lives have been shattered forever, especially if the parents divorce. 

Seemingly, the existing law encourages more Papua New Guineans, especially the well-to-do, to commit adultery because they will pay a measly K510 if they are caught with their pants down.

There is a tendency for adulterous couples to maintain their sexual activities over a long period, as was the case involving the Kokopo mayor, but eventually they will get caught. 

And the aftermath can be ugly.

It is high time the Law Reform Commission revisited the current legislation on adultery with a view to making it tougher for unfaithful husbands and wives to enjoy extramarital sex to the detriment of their aggrieved spouses and children.

The commission should seriously consider a hefty fine that will not only deter people from committing the offence but will sufficiently compensate the victims, including the children.

While “it takes two to tango”, more people feel the pain of their pleasures.

Historically, many cultures have considered adultery a very serious crime. Adultery often incurred severe punishment, usually for the woman and sometimes for the man, with penalties including capital punishment, mutilation or torture. 

In most Western countries, adultery itself is no longer a criminal offense, but may still have legal consequences, particularly in divorce cases. 

For example, in fault-based family law jurisdictions, adultery almost always constitutes a ground for divorce and may be a factor in property settlement, the custody of children and the denial of alimony. 

Adultery is not a ground for divorce in jurisdictions which have adopted a no-fault divorce model. 

In some societies and among certain religious adherents, adultery may affect the social status of those involved, and may result in social ostracism.

In countries where adultery is a criminal offense, punishments range from fines to caning and even capital punishment. 

Since the 20th Century, criminal laws against adultery have become controversial, with international organisations calling for their abolition, especially in the light of several high profile stoning cases that have occurred in some countries. 

In Muslim countries that follow sharia law, the punishment for adultery may be stoning. There are 15 countries where stoning is authorised as lawful punishment; however instances have occurred outside the legal system. 

The term “adultery” refers to sexual acts between a married person and someone who is not that person’s spouse. It may arise in criminal law or in family law. 

For instance, in the United Kingdom, adultery is not a criminal offense but is a ground for divorce, with the legal definition of adultery being “physical contact with an alien and unlawful organ”. 

Extramarital sexual acts not fitting this definition are not “adultery” though they may constitute “unreasonable behaviour”, also a ground of divorce. The application of the term to the act appears to arise from the idea that “criminal intercourse with a married woman … tended to adulterate the issue (children) of an innocent husband … and to expose him to support and provide for another man’s (children)”. 

Thus, the “purity” of the children of a marriage is corrupted, and the inheritance is altered.

Some adultery laws differentiate based on the sex of the participants, and as a result such laws are often seen as discriminatory, and in some jurisdictions they have been struck down by courts, usually on the basis that they discriminated against women. 

The term adultery, rather than extramarital sex, implies a moral condemnation of the act; as such it is usually not a neutral term because it carries an implied judgment that the act is wrong.