What do Africans think of Indonesia?

Brave act

Marriage is very important in Indonesian society. Divorce sticks to those affected - men as well as women - as a major flaw. However, the number of divorces is increasing and the state has now regulated issues such as alimony and custody.

In Indonesia, where 90 percent of the 250 million population are Muslim, more than a thousand marriages divorce on average every day. According to statistics from the Supreme Council for Religious Affairs, which is only responsible for Muslims, the number of divorces rose from 251,208 in 2010 to 382,231 in 2014.

The growing number of failed marriages is a topic in the Indonesian media, warning of a revealing and liberal lifestyle. There are workshops and seminars, especially for women, in which tips on how to save a marriage are given. The print media and the Internet are also full of guides for married couples.

Many sites strongly promote marriage - including the polygamous Muslim variant, in which men can have up to four wives. For a long time this was considered out of date and politically incorrect in Indonesia, which is why officials, for example, are not allowed to have polygamous marriages. Women's rights activists also reject polygamy. However, this practice is becoming increasingly popular. To encourage marriage, some counties host mass weddings because many couples reportedly cannot afford marriage fees on their own.

This trend is based on growing conservatism, but there are no statistics on it. Most Indonesians are religious and marriage has always been a precious good in the eyes of the vast majority. Therefore, divorces are stigmatized by childless men and women. Many middle-class women hold on to their marriage, even if it has degenerated into a farce.

In Indonesia, a woman needs a lot of courage to file for divorce (see box). Divorce also damages the man's reputation, but not to the same extent. The Asosiasi Advokasi Perempuan lawyers' association reports that women usually only leave their husbands for a short time, even when they experience domestic violence, and then return to him - often several times. According to the association, women return to their husbands up to eight times on average before they finally separate.

Financial worries are the most common cause of divorce, followed by infidelity and sexual problems. Often there are complaints about childlessness or about too many offspring. Lack of communication seems to be another reason for separation.

According to an investigation by the Ministry of Religious Affairs, most divorces in recent years have occurred in Aceh, Padang, Cilegon, Indramayu, Pekalongan, Banyuwangi and Ambon provinces. Labor migration is the main reason. Securing financial livelihoods for themselves and their families is a priority for most Indonesians, as for most people around the world. In view of high unemployment and steadily rising prices, many Indonesians are looking for jobs abroad, whether as workers or employees. The distance from home puts a lot of strain on family life. In rare cases, Indonesians from abroad even care for four wives and have to send their savings home accordingly. Sometimes divorce becomes inevitable.

Soap operas and sex tourism

Two other trends that are contributing to the rising divorce rate are pop culture and increasing sex tourism. The Ministry of Religious Affairs warns against looking to the soap operas on television, in which young, inexperienced couples celebrate a wedding as if it were some kind of date.

On the other hand, there is the problem of sex tourism: tourists “marry” women for a limited time and exploit them sexually. According to the religious communities, such a marriage is valid as long as it lasts - but after the departure of the foreign “husbands”, the women are left in shame. This is of course a form of prostitution.

The Indonesian government has settled important divorce issues such as alimony and custody. However, the rule of law in Indonesia is weak, and laws are often not applied. Therefore, in a divorce, the personal sense of responsibility of those involved is very important.

Legally, either spouse can file for divorce, be it in an Islamic court or a state court. The applications and explanations can be found on the Internet. Women's and civil rights groups help with information and legal assistance. Although divorce is still poorly viewed in Indonesia, it has become a reality. That fits in with everyday life in society - but not necessarily with its worldview.

Edith Koesoemawiria is a freelance journalist.
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