CAIRO — The Indonesian government has drafted a new law that would see more restrictions on polygamy, a longtime thorny issue in the world’s most populous Muslim nation, and a total ban on unregistered and contractual marriages.“We’re trying to cut back on instances of men committing polygamy,” Nasaruddin Umar, director general of Islamic guidance at the Religious Affairs Ministry, told the Jakarta Post on Monday, March 2.
The ministry has drafted a bill that tightens the prerequisites for taking more than one wife and sets penalties in case of breaches.
Under the proposed bill, presented to the State Secretariat for the President’s perusal, men seeking a second, third or fourth marriage would have to get written consent from their existent wife or wives.
“The present wives must sign the letter of consent in front of an official so we know they’ve not been forced by the husband,” Muctar Ilyas, a ministry official, told Agence France Presse (AFP).“We will report men who marry without their wives’ consent to the police on fraud charges.”
Men also have to prove they have proper financial means to support the new wife.
Those who violate the measures could face jail sentences and fines.
“They can be jailed up to three months and fined up to five million rupiah (415 dollars),” Muctar said.
Though not widely practiced, polygamy has long been a source of controversy in Indonesia, where Muslims make up some 90 percent of the 225-million population.
Opinions are strongly divided on the issue in the South Asian country.
Islam sees polygamy as a realistic answer to some social woes like adulterous affairs and lamentable living conditions of a widow or a divorced woman.
A Muslim man who seeks a second or a third wife should, however, make sure that he would treat them all on an equal footing.
The Noble Qur’an says that though polygamy is lawful it is very hard for a man to guarantee such fairness.
The bill also urges a ban on contractual marriage, a kind of marriage in which the two partners define its period in advance, as well as unregistered marriages.
“Unregistered and contractual marriages are detrimental to women,” says Nasaruddin.
The bill stipulates that scholars or state officials who help organize such marriages, known locally as nikah siri, will face a maximum jail sentence of one year and/or fines of up to Rp 6 million.
Government officials affirm that the aim of the new proposed rules is protect women rights.
“Many women have been made to suffer, because in the absence of regulations concerning those matters, their husbands can easily marry other women,” says Nasaruddin.
But women rights advocates say the bill is not protective enough, urging for more harsh penalties against polygamy.
“The bill needs to be revised due to the loopholes,” Siti Musdah Mulia, a woman activist, told the Post.
She added that the bill does not fulfill the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), adopted by Indonesia several years ago.
“The government is still hesitant about curbing discrimination against women.”