06/27/2015, 00.00
INDONESIA - ISLAM
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Bowing to ulema, Constitutional Court approves "forced" marriages with minors

by Mathias Hariyadi
Civil society outraged by supreme court decision, already criticized for the ruling on mixed faith couples. The Court legalized marriages of minors under 16, considering them adult ready for marriage. MUI pressure instrumental. Indonesian activist: a dangerous precedent.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - After rejecting the reform of marriage law for the recognition of mixed couples, the Indonesian Constitutional Court (MK) has once again caused uproar in civil society for having approved the marriage of girls in their late teens.

According to human rights activist Nursjahbani Katjasungkana, the supreme courts have created a dangerous precedent that could give the green light to the practice of "forced marriage" even for minors. It would appear that the Supreme Court decision gave into pressure from the Indonesian Council of Ulemas (MUI), a so-called "observer" of morals and morality on the Muslim archipelago. The Islamist movement has long campaigned for marriage of girls under 18 years.

Katjasungkana explains the judges have effectively legalized marriages of girls as young as 16, considered "adult" and "ready" for marriage even if the reality is quite different. In this context, he adds,  cases of forced marriages involving girls and young women, 16 years or younger will be legal.

Moreover, the activist continues, with this law the quality of the marriage which was previously reserved only for persons of consenting age (over 18 years)  was permitted. Katjasungkana says the decision hides "the moral influence exerted on judges by the Indonesian Council of Ulemas," who judges hold as more important than common law and even the well-being of the same young people.

In the past, according to tradition, in Indonesia a girl was considered ready for marriage after her first menstrual cycle. However, in general menstruation began later while now even young girls experience the menstrual phase. For Islamists, a period implies that the bride is ready for marriage and procreation. Rather than considering common sense and common practice of medicine, concludes Katjasungkana, "the judges take into account the opinion of Mui".

Recent studies developed by the Indonesian Women's Coalition (KPI) show that 20% of marriages celebrated in the archipelago involve young people between 13 and 15 years, in blatant violation of the law (1/1974 on marriage). And the figure rises to 39% if we consider girls between 15 and 17 years. A few years ago an Islamic leader, Syeh Puii, became famous for marrying his student, just 12 years old, for "humanitarian reasons".

In recent years, the Indonesian authorities have repeatedly succumbed to pressure from the MUI, which plays a role of "observer" of manners and morals in the archipelago. In Aceh region where the radical Islamic rule, women can not wear tight jeans or skirts. In March 2011, the MUI lashed out at the flag-raising "because Muhammad never did it", and previously even launched anathemas against the popular social network Facebook as "amoral", against yoga, smoking and the right to vote, for women in particular.

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