02/16/2010, 00.00
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Jakarta: ulemas and government agree on prison and fines for common law couples

by Mathias Hariyadi
Common law and polygamous couples could get up to three months in jail and fines of up to US$ 535,000. Religious Affairs Ministry drafts bill, backed by powerful Ulemas Council. Whilst legal in Islam, polygamy is seen as “bad” and a sign of selfishness.
Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Indonesia’s Ministry for Religious Affairs, backed by the powerful Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI), plans to introduce a bill that would include jail time and fines for common law couples. The government also plans to crack down on contract marriages and polygamy—the latter is allowed in Islam but rejected by most people in Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country in the world. Should the bill become law, violations could entail up to three months in jail and fines of up to 5 million rupiahs (US$ 535,00o).

Maaruf Armin, a prominent MUI official, said that his organisation has backed the Ministry’s proposal since 2005. He said he wants to see the draft bill against unregistered marriages turned into law. Common law couples deserve to go to jail because of their “illegal” behaviour, he said.

The controversy re-emerged after Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali announced that the authorities would crack down on unregistered couples.

The cabinet outlined the proposal to the State Secretariat, which should vet the bill before sending in to the lower house for approval.

The law would entail penalties that vary according to the gravity of the crime, including up to three months in prison and fines of up to US$ 535,000 in cases of common law relationships, polygamy and contract marriage.

Unregistered couples, popularly known as Nikah Siri, have become a common practice in Indonesia, especially among celebrities, business people and politicians.

Polygamy, whilst legal in Islam, is largely rejected by public opinion in Indonesia. When it is practiced, it is done in great secret. For most Indonesians, it is something “bad”, a sign of selfishness because of its negative impact on women and children forced to live in illegal circumstances.

Marriage is legal in Indonesia if it is performed before a cleric. After that it must registered with the Catatan Sipil, the local civil bureau.

The bill before parliament has received the “moral support” of Mahfud MD, head of the Constitutional Court. “Marrying other women—despite the legal and moral right to practice polygamy in Islam—is nothing more than satisfying one’s selfish sexual lust,” he said.

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