Aceh parliament claims it wants to legalise polygamy to ‘save women’

CNN Indonesia – July 6, 2019
Protest action against polygamy in North Sumatra (Merdeka)
Protest action against polygamy in North Sumatra (Merdeka)

Jakarta – The Acehnese Regional House of Representatives (DPRA) is justifying a plan by the Aceh government to legalise polygamy on the grounds that it will save women and children who have fallen victim to nikah siri (common law marriage recognised by Islam).

DPRA Commission VII Deputy Speaker Musannif said that as long as polygamy is not legalised women will continue to fall victim. He believes that the practice of nikah siri has never provided certainty, particularly for women, because they are not registered with the state.

“We want to inform women of siri [marriages], you will become victims if (marriages) are not registered. What about the issue of inheritance, the husband and wife’s property”, Musannif told CNN Indonesia by phone on Saturday July 6.

Musannif said that the practice of nikah siri is common in society both in Aceh as well as other parts of the country, although polygamy has yet to be legalised. According to Musannif, rather than letting nikah siri continue, it would be better to enact clear regulations on polygamy.

“Sometimes the issue (polygamy) made out to be uncivilized as if men just want to take [women] as they please, yet we want to save women and children from the nikah siri which has been happening”, he said.

Musannif explained that polygamy will be regulated under a chapter in the qanun on family law. The qanun, which in other regions is referred to as a bylaw, will regulated the principles of syariat Islam (Islamic law). The qanun on family law itself will discuss marriage, divorces, trusteeship and other family issues.

“Under Islamic law it does indeed stipulate that men are allowed to have up to four wives. But sometime people only talk about this, the additional articles about justice, people don’t talk about”, he said.

Musannif said that men wishing to practice polygamy must obtain prior permission from their wife, although this is not absolute. Then agreement from the Religious High Court or what is referred to in Aceh as the Mahkamah Syar’iyah (Supreme Court for Religious Affairs), which will issue a license which is then registered with the state.

“We’re not giving out blank cheques, just like that. The Mahkamah Syar’iyah judges only issue licenses after a full consideration”, he said.

Musannif also explained that polygamous marriages will require a letter from the National Narcotics Agency (BNN) and the Health Office stating that the prospective couple does not use drugs, is infected with HIV/AIDS or other diseases.

Islamic Law Office proposal

Musannif said that the draft regulation on polygamy was proposed by the executive, in this case the Acehnese Islamic Law Office, it was not an initiative of the DPRA.

The DPRA’s Commission VII on Religion and Cultural Affairs which will deliberate the qanun is made up of 10 people, four of which are women. Musannif claimed that so far there have not been any objections, although there has been a lot of input from women during the deliberations.

“Because it’s not the case that what we are regulating is just in the interest of men alone”, he said.

The DPRA has also been consulting with the Ministry of Religion so that the regulation does not conflict with the Marriage Law and they have also consulted with the Ministry for the Empowerment of Women and Protection of Children (PPPA).

Musannif said that the DPRA will schedule a public hearing on August 1 which will also involve the Religious High Court, the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights and the Ulema Consultative Assembly (MPU) – an assembly of religious leaders in Aceh.

“With the PPPA, it is as if (polygamy) involves a violation of the first wife’s human rights. We will try to explain it from [the perspective of] Islamic law, after all we aren’t regulating what is being done, if we regulate it, it’ll be better right”, he said.

Musannif said that the DPRA has scheduled a public hearing for August 1 which will involve the Religious High Court, the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, the MPU, the BNN and the Health Office.

Musannif said that the DPRA must finish the draft qanun on polygamy before the new batch of DPRA legislators are inaugurated on September 30. “We want it to be finished in during the DPRA’s current term”, he said.

In relation to this, the chairperson of the West Aceh regency MPU, Teungku Abdurrani Adian said that they agree with the plan to legalise polygamy.

“Polygamy under Islamic religious law is indeed valid (legal), although up until now it has not yet been applied under a regional regulation. If this regulation is applied, we (ulama) [Islamic clerics] will strongly support it”, Adian told the Antara state news agency in Meulaboh. (pmg/pmg)

[Translated by James Balowski. Abridged slightly for length. The original title of the article was “DPR Aceh Sebut Legalisasi Poligami untuk Selamatkan Perempuan”.]