Last Updated: Tue Nov 02, 2010 19:04 pm (KSA) 16:04 pm (GMT)

Indonesian cleric arrested over child bride

Arranged marriages between older men and girls are common in poor rural areas in Indonesia (File)
Arranged marriages between older men and girls are common in poor rural areas in Indonesia (File)

An Indonesia Muslim cleric, who took a 12-year-old girl as a second wife, might face up to 15 years in prison on charges of obscenity, a newspaper reported on Wednesday.

The 43-year-old Pujiono Cayho Widiyanto, a wealthy businessman and cleric, was arrested by police in the central Java city of Semarang on Tuesday, after her married a poor village girl, Lutfiana Ulfa, sparking nationwide outrage.

"We've collected enough evidence to charge him with under age obscenity under the Criminal Code," chief detective Royhardi Siahaan was quoted as saying by the Indonesian daily the Jakarta Globe.

The cleric was arrested after police collected documents proving Ulfa was under age, Siahaan said.

The majority of Indonesia's estimated 234-million population are Muslims.

Minimum age for marriage

 We've collected enough evidence to charge him with under age obscenity under the Criminal Code 
Indonedian chief detective Royhardi Siahaan

Widiyanto and his supporters argued that his actions are acceptable under Islam but others say he should abide by state law, which sets 16 as the minimum age for female marriage, and 19 for males.

Arranged marriages between older men and much younger girls are common in poor rural areas in Indonesia. These marriages are not registered so they are not legally recognized, but are religiously sanctioned. Indonesian law carries stiff penalties in such cases.

According to UNICEF the practice of early marriage is most common in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

But it has also emerged as a touchy issue in other Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, which does not have a legal age limit for marriage because family law is governed by Islamic sharia law.

Marriage officials in Saudi Arabia last month refused the marriage of three 13-year-old girls amid an outcry by rights activists in the kingdom over child marriages. When the father of one of the girls then sought permission from the head of a regional court, he was told to wait until she was 15.

Human rights activists are seeking laws banning the practice of child marriage and setting a minimum age of 16 to 18 for marriage in countries around the world that do not have a minimum age.

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