28 Oct 2008

Indonesian religious teacher married to 12 year old, plans to marry two other minors

The Jakarta Post - October 29, 2008

Will we allow the 'kyai' to get away with pedophilia?

by Ati Nurbaiti, The Jakarta Post

The risk of trying to be a religiously devout society is to be a religiously dumb society: One in which its members forgo rationality for devotion. Allowing this to happen is tantamount to giving a free hand to crime and cruelty, not to mention stupidity -- all in the name of religion (in this case, Islam).

The case at hand is of a generous religious teacher (kyai) in Semarang, Central Java, who has married a 12-year-old, and has announced plans to marry a nine and a seven-year-old too.

The teacher, Pujiono Cahyo, who made headlines for distributing Rp 1.3 billion (US$140,000) for the poor during the past Ramadan fasting month, said it was his wife who suggested he marry again.

The case smacks of pedophilia.

If police fail to arrest the suspected pedophile at once, we have truly come full circle to the days before religion, the days of human suffering that religion was supposed to protect us against. Are police going to wait for evidence of sexual intercourse despite the fact that Indonesia now has a law on child protection?

Apart from the criminal law which criminalizes sex with minors, the marriage law itself rules that a female must be at least 16 to marry.

But our newfound freedoms have apparently led to the freedom to choose between law and religion, the latter having more room for interpretation by the powerful and influential. One reason for this is perhaps the search for answers through religious devotion in these tumultuous times.

And yet we are told that Islam, following in the paths of other religions, came to end the jaman jahiliyah -- an era similar to the ages of the Aztec and other tribes which sacrificed humans as part of their worship; days when men could have hundreds of wives.

And so, devoted or not, we should be grateful for the introduction of religions that put an end to an era of mindless cruelty. The beliefs ushered in a degree of rationality, and along with the Enlightenment and human rights movements we had an understanding of what you can and can't do to fellow humans.

Indonesia, for example, has seen an end of the practice of wives throwing themselves into the funeral pyre of their husbands in Bali has long disappeared -- maybe even before the Human Rights Declarations stated that human rights could not be subservient to religious or traditional practices.

This means that while we respect any belief, we draw a line when that belief says it is OK to sacrifice a fellow human.

And although many of us still seek the advice of shamans, the wise man would sooner or later be reported to police if he suggested he needed virgins for the hocus pocus to work better.

In a number of countries, the Catholic Church has revealed shocking cases of pedophilia that have long been cloaked under its authority and influence. Also in Indonesia, Catholic friends were pleasantly surprised by one or two revelations of sexual harassment by the local clergy, saying it was an absolute taboo to discuss.

Now in Semarang we see a similar incident.

The glaring difference is that the kyai has actually pronounced what no one knew before. Unlike the Catholic clergy he did not feel he had to hide anything.

It clearly shows that just because he gave away billions in charity, he thinks he can get away with marrying children. His pronouncement alone says a lot about Indonesia's society today: He is convinced that he is doing nothing wrong. And although it is controversial, this works all the better for his publicity.

It means that this society has allowed such convictions to come about.

Just check instances of polygamy. Many have given a clear nod to such marriages, even if they were not conducted with the permission of the first wife (as required by law).

The law was deliberately bypassed in such cases, conveniently getting away with legal provisions to conduct marriages under Islamic law.

In our full schedule of reforms to fight graft and abuses of power, we must keep our eyes open wide for the corruption of religion -- which can sacrifice the vulnerable right under our noses.

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