There are plenty of ways to get media attention in Indonesia. One of the best is to publicly announce you have married a 12-year-old and intend to take a 9-year-old and a 7-year-old in the near future as wives.
In most places this would be serial pedophilia and the perpetrator would be investigated and prosecuted and hopefully jailed.
It should be noted that this is not an attack on Indonesia alone. I have written about the child bride practice in Yemen here. You can find other commentary here.
There are many urging the police to take immediate action in terms of investigating the cleric, Pujiono Cahyo Widianto (AKA Syekh Puji), for breaches of the Child Protection Law, the Marriage Law, the Labor Law, and most obviously the Criminal Code.
The Child Protection Law states that the parents of a child cannot marry them off until the child has reached at least 18 years of age. The Marriage Law sets an age of 16 with the parents consent. The breach of the Labor law relates to the allegation that Puji has made his new bride, Lutfiana Ulfa, a Managing Director (or something similar) in one of his companies. The Criminal Code prohibits sexual contact with minors.
There would seem to be some inconsistency between the Child Protection Law and the Marriage Law in terms of age. This is potentially a Constitutional Court issue in terms of determining which age is the appropriate age.
In terms of the Marriage Law individually. The Marriage Law recognizes marriages know as kawin siri. This type of marriage is one that is valid under one's religion. If this particular marriage is a kawin siri one then this raises a whole range of issues that warrant a much longer debate and post than I intend to make here.
However, suffice to say, if the parents provide their permission for the marriage to take place, the parents are of sound mind and body, then should the state be in a position to take their parenting rights away?
It would seem that there is much more to this story than a simple run of the mill kawin siri. I am sure that the Indonesian Child Protection Commission (Komisi Perlindungan Anak Indonesia / KPAI), who have sent a team to investigate, will produce a report that will enlighten us a little further as to what transpired in this case.
Claims of child exploitation are interesting as the parents seemed to have agreed. If there was a transaction involved, a dowry for instance, would this be consistent with child trafficking? Just throwing that out there.
It seems the Syekh's reasons for marrying are varied but primary among these is his self-proclaimed penchant for liking little girls. The reason is that he can "educate" them to become great people. Maybe this is true.
However, he does not need to marry them to educate them and make them great people. He could just as easily facilitate their education through university, ensure that their parents have sufficient resources to provide a good home and good nutrition. The Syekh obviously has the resources to do this as he recently disbursed some IDR 1.2 billion as alms this past Eid.
Nah, I think it has more to do with that he enjoys having sex with children. He has chosen to dress this up as something that is permissible under his religion and it is so because the prophet did it. It is amusing in a really sad way that the Syekh equates himself to the prophet and that he thinks that the times have not changed.
This is not a justification for the prophet's actions rather a statement as to what may or may not have been acceptable then is not acceptable now. However, "acceptable" is relative and there are some who do not have a problem with what the Syekh has done or is planning to do. One of these people who does not have a problem with it is a member of parliament and a representative of the Prosperous Justice Party or PKS.
The Chair of the Indonesia Ulemas Council (MUI), Umar Shihab, has come out and said he is troubled by the marriage. His troubles are not an outright condemnation of the marriage. His statements go along the lines of he cannot see why the Syekh needs to marry a 12-year-old when there are so many older women available for marriage. Shihab then goes on to suggest that it is important that the reasons for the marriage be made clear and that it is OK to marry in order to protect yourself from sin.
This is most certainly not the required condemnation for the sexual exploitation of children that the MUI needs to be putting out there into the public sphere. It seems that the biggest hurdle is that some just cannot reconcile that the actions of the prophet some 1400 years ago no longer the way of the 21st Century.
Those that support this will never get past. "well the prophet married Aisha when she was just a child", which is simply an argument, "if it was good enough for the prophet then it must be good enough for us". A silly argument that seems more like a call to rationalize and justify modern day pedophilia than it is to protect some kind of sacred institution or practice.
In a cynical and sarcastic way it is too bad for followers of other religions that their prophets or founders chose not to take child brides. Then we could simply run away from the fact that we have men sexually exploiting children and hide behind some religious excuse that it is OK. It is not OK and it is time the practice was explicitly forbidden.
It is time for Muslim scholars to state unequivocally that the actions of Muhammad had their time and place back then but there is no justification for actions such as the practice of taking child brides in the 21st Century. The MUI could lead the charge on this in Indonesia.
For me there are lots of issues.
Simply, girls are not ready to become wives and are not prepared mentally, emotionally, or physically for being married. According to most reports, Ulfa has already menstruated and if the Syekh is as good as his religious word then this means that he has already slept with her. I just cannot bring my mind to the idea that a 12-year-old is in any way ready to become a parent herself. I know some 30-year-olds that are not ready for the challenge.
The second issue runs on from the first in a sense that being married at 12 rips away any normalcy of childhood. If you take a step back and think for a minute of two about your childhood, good or bad, this is the time that you develop, you grow, and you have fun with your peers, it is where you start to gain your life experiences that make you what you are as an adult. For Ulfa it would seem that her childhood or teenage years are destined to be a revolving door of pregnancies and isolation from her peers.
Let's face it, you do not usually see married and pregnant girls in year 7 or 8 of high school.
When push comes to shove, if this marriage has in fact taken place, then this marriage should be rejected and rejected with prejudice. The man should be investigated, prosecuted, and jailed for the sexual abuse of a minor. This can happen even without the MUI and others having the testicular fortitude to come out and openly say this is wrong no matter the circumstances proclaimed as being justification are.
Whether law enforcement is endowed with the courage to make a statement on the application of the rule of law in Indonesia by seeing this individual is punished for all breaches of the prevailing laws and regulations remains to be seen.
Being the eternal optimist then I will always remain hopeful that this person will be punished for his crimes.