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INDONESIA: Clerics take child brides, yet back anti porn bill
11/26/2008 | AFP - Agence France Presse
[JAKARTA, 26 November 2008] - Indonesian Muslim clerics who claim to be protecting vulnerable women by backing a new anti-pornography law have come out in defence of a fellow preacher who has married a 12-year-old village girl.
The issue of child brides for religious men in the mainly Muslim country has became a subject of national debate since little-known cleric Pujianto Cahyo Widiyanto, 43, married junior high school student Lutfiana Ulfa in August.
His case went virtually unnoticed until Muslim conservatives started lobbying parliament to pass a new anti-pornography bill which was opposed by a broad spectrum of civil society groups and non-Muslims.
Passed in October with the backing of the very clerics who are now defending Widiyanto, the law criminalises all movements and works, including poetry and music, deemed obscene and capable of violating public morality.
"These clerics are hypocrites," lawmaker Said Abdullah, from the Democratic Party of Struggle of former president Megawati Sukarnoputri, told AFP.
"They say the anti-porn law will protect young women, but yet they dehumanise them by marrying underage girls and supporting child marriage."
Under Indonesian pedophilia laws, Widiyanto could face 15 years' jail for having sex with a minor. He is under investigation but openly talks about his love of pubescent girls and his plans to marry more.
"There is no coercion. The girls like me and their parents have given their blessings," Widiyanto was quoted as telling Detikcom news website.
And no one should interfere because child brides are allowed under Islam, according to Muslims such as Hilman Rosyad Syihab, the deputy head of the Islam-based Prosperous Justice Party which backed the pornography law.
He said Islam allowed marriage regardless of whether a girl had reached sexual maturity.
"But the husband can only have sex with her once she reaches puberty," he explained, in contravention of the law which sets 16 as the minimum marriage age for women and 18 as the age of consent.
The issue highlights the ongoing battle in Indonesia between the law of the land, debated and passed in a democratic parliament, and the law of God as defined by a tiny minority of Islamic leaders.
"Indonesia is not an Islamic state so why is Syihab citing Islamic laws? By supporting Widiyanto, he is breaking state law," Abdullah said.
Child Protection Commission head Seto Mulyadi said there were "thousands of cases like Widiyanto's" in Indonesia.
"Islamic laws may have positive values, but state laws must be followed. There must be stronger law enforcement to stop these cases," he said.
But Syarifuddin Abdul Gani, a senior member of the country's highest Islamic body, the Indonesian Council of Ulemas, said he saw no problem with Widiyanto's marriage.
'No law broken'
"This man has not broken any Islamic rule. The couple's marriage is still valid," he said.
Widiyanto, the principal of a Muslim boarding school in Semarang, central Java, isn't happy with only one child bride. He reportedly plans to marry two other girls aged nine and seven.
Forced to act only after his case hit the headlines, the police are now investigating him for possible breaches of the 2002 child protection law, which covers forcing or trading a child into sex and marrying a minor.
Care Foundation Indonesia director Saiful Hadi said child marriages were typically rural affairs, sealed in unofficial religious ceremonies not recognised by the state.
The groom is "almost always someone religious" and old enough to be the girl's father, he said.
"Often they manage or teach at religious boarding schools and find wives from their pool of female students. These men are considered gurus, respectable people, so the girls' parents can't say no to their proposals," Hadi said.
The girls usually have no say in the matter. Most are sold by their impoverished parents or given away to ease the economic burden on their families.
"The girls' families are usually poor," Hadi said.
Tackling the problem should be simple, said lawmaker Abdullah.
"Every sub-district has a religious affairs department that oversees marriages. Simply demote or sack officials who allow child marriages to take place," he said.
- Saudi Arabia: Rights commission seeks end to child marriages (26 August 2008)
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AFP - Agence France Presse