Indonesian Movie Tackles the Bugis Marriage Custom of Giving Dowry to the Bride

An Indonesian film has reignited public discussion about a unique marriage custom among the Bugis Tribe in Sulawesi Island where the groom gives Uang Panai’ or dowry to the family of the bride before marriage.

The amount of Uang Panai’ depends on many factors like the education level and social status of the bride. Writing about the Uang Panai’, scholar Sharyn Graham Davies notes that “there is a complex set of rules regulating the payment of bride price.”

Without the Uang Panai’, the wedding cannot take place. Because of this tradition, the Bugis woman is sometimes called ‘the most luxurious woman in Indonesia’.

Blogger Nani Rachman explains how the Uang Panai’ reflects the commitment of the groom to his future wife:

If the amount requested (Uang Panai’) is fulfilled by the groom, it would give prestige (honor) to the woman’s family. Honor is meant here in the sense of an award given by the groom to the woman he wanted to marry by providing a magnificent marriage feast through the Uang Panai’.

Another blogger, Indra Mae, emphasized that Uang Panai’ is not strictly similar to the Western concept of dowry:

This is the amount of money given by the groom to the bride which is a form of appreciation and respect for the norms of reality and social strata. Uang Panai’ is not counted as a marriage dowry but as customary money, an amount agreed to by both parties or families.

In the Uang Panai’ movie, the father of the groom lamented that the giving of dowry has become a social problem.

The film tells the story of a store clerk who earns 5 million rupiahs (379 US dollars) a month but needs to raise 120 million rupiahs (9,000 US dollars) as dowry to the family of the girl he wants to marry. His father borrowed money from a moneylender to help him.

It is not uncommon to hear sad news reports related to the Uang Panai’ custom. There was a news story about a soldier who was beaten by his bride’s family in Gowa regency because he failed to deliver the full amount of Uang Panai’. Another story involves a young girl from Bulukumba who narrated how her boyfriend failed to marry her because their families could not agree on the matter of Uang Panai’ Recently, a widower in Pinrang made news after it was reported that he gave 599 million rupiahs (about 45,000 US dollars) to his bride.

The Uang Panai’ movie generated mixed reactions about the marriage custom. Some believe it inspires the groom to prove his love to his bride while others reject it as an unfair imposition. But there were also viewers who insist that Uang Panai’ is more than a dowry or money required to marry a Bugis woman. They assert that it shows commitment and devotion on the part of the groom.

This is the first time that a mainstream film in Indonesia has focussed on the Uang Panai’ marriage custom.

The giving of Uang Panai’ is still widely practiced today among the indigenous Bugis-Makassar tribe.


Female Genital Mutilation violates human rights, Muslim groups say as campaign in launched in Dublin

Everyone should respect the law banning female genital mutilation (FGM) and support the global campaign calling for an end to the practice, three Muslim groups have said.

The Irish Muslim Peace & Integration Council (IMPIC), the Al-Mustafa Islamic Centre Ireland and the Ifrah Foundation said FGM was a violation of human rights.

The groups joined in the criticism of remarks by an Irish Muslim cleric advocating female circumcision.

Dr Ali Selim of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland told RTE last week that female circumcision should be carried out if a doctor advised it needed to be done.

“We see female circumcision in the same way we see male circumcision,” Dr Selim said.

“It might be needed for one person and not another, and it has to be done by a doctor and practised in a safe environment,” he said.

Dr Selim’s comments came as Ifrah Ahmed, a survivor of the practice, launched #MeTooFGM, a worldwide social media campaign against FGM.

The 29-year-old, who was born in Somalia, said FGM is happening outside of developing countries, including reports of it occurring in the UK.

Ifrah Foundation founder Ms Ahmed, Ifrah Foundation board member Dr Chris Fitzpatrick and IMPIC chairman Shaykh Dr Umar Al-Qadri met in Dublin on Monday to voice their opposition.

“There is no medical, religious or cultural justifications for FGM,” they said.

“Muslim leaders and scholars categorically reject that the practice offers any benefits and considers it in direct contradiction to the basic tenets of Islam.

“FGM is associated with serious medical complications in young girls and women. It is also associated with complications relating to childbirth and is responsible for the deaths of mothers and babies in counties where it is practised.”

The groups added: “[We] call on all Irish Muslims to respect the law in relation to FGM in Ireland and supports the global campaign to end FGM.”

IMPIC and the Al-Mustafa Islamic Centre in Ireland are backing Ms Ahmed’s global campaign.

Health Minister Simon Harris and Trinity College Dublin, where Dr Selim is a part-time language teacher were among those who have been critical of Dr Selim.

On Sunday Mr Harris tweeted: “Female genital mutilation is never ever justifiable, has no place in healthcare, is illegal, dangerous, can have a devastating impact & is a violation of human rights.”

A spokesman for Trinity College Dublin said university teachers and students believed the practice was always wrong.

FGM comprises all procedures involving altering or injuring female genitalia for non-medical reasons and is recognised internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women.

It is estimated that at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone some form of FGM, according to the UN.

Girls aged 14 and younger represent 44 million of those who have been cut, most commonly in Gambia, Mauritania and Indonesia.

The procedure is mostly carried out on young girls between infancy and age 15, the UN protest organisers said.

It causes severe bleeding and health issues including cysts, infections, infertility and complications in childbirth.

The #MeToo movement began after claims of serious sexual misconduct surfaced in Hollywood allegedly involving producer Harvey Weinstein, which he denies.


Legal Dilemma of Child Marriage

KOMPAS, 6 February 2018 – The legal aspect seems to be the weakest in efforts to prevent child marriage in the country. In practice, isbat nikah (a marriage conducted according to customary religious law) and the dispensasi nikah (marriage dispensation; an application to the religious court for permission to marry an underage partner) are two loopholes that can turn the illegal act of marrying a child, legal. Furthermore, both tacitly acknowledge the “legality” of non-state regulations that should thus be deemed illegal, with legal sanctions for violators.

Historically, the existence of non-state laws, including religious and customary laws, are inseparable from the wealth of laws that have existed in Indonesia long before the colonialists brought with them the concept of laws as a consequence of a modern state.

Colonial advisors such as Snouck Hurgronje or Islamic law expert Van den Berg assured that maintaining the customary and religious laws of a colonized people would prevent uprisings.

At the same time, the stance would help the colonial government gain support and acknowledgment for applying ethical policies to a colonized people. Therefore, legal pluralism emerged through recognizing the practice of religious and customary laws, especially in family matters, including marriages, inheritances and donations.

Legal domination and tyranny

During the New Order, advocacy continued for establishing customary and religious laws on an equal standing with state laws. This was especially relevant in relation to indigenous people who wanted to maintain their traditional laws to protect their communal right to customary lands. Activists fought for the implementation of legal pluralism to prevent the unilateral domination of state laws that might be abused to take over indigenous lands as concession areas.

The political nuances that underlined this movement might have been different from those during the colonial era. If legal pluralism was implemented during the colonial regime to tame the colonized population, it was used under the New Order to protect the lands of indigenous groups and tribes that were vulnerable to state occupation in the name of economic development.

However, in relation to family law, the state attempted to consolidate all marriage laws through the Marriage Law (Law No. 1/1974), and the Compilation of Islamic Laws (KHI) under Presidential Instruction No. 1/1991. Under these two regulations, all citizens, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, are required to abide by national laws. The regulations also affirm the authority of state laws above religious laws.

Different from agrarian issues in which activists fight for and defend legal pluralism for the protection of nature-dependent indigenous groups, providing space for customary and religious laws has never been a focal point of struggling for legal pluralism in family law. On the contrary, activists tend to agree on regulating family law through state laws.

In this context, Barry Hooker, an Australian professor of Islamic law, introduced the concept of big laws and small laws to differentiate the level of legal sources between state laws and religious laws (or fikih in Islam) in resolving family matters. For Hooker, what was important was that small laws must abide by big laws.

Such a mindset is manifested in practice through regulations that necessitate a legal hierarchy in which the 1945 Constitution and national laws must serve as the foundations of all derivative regulations. In such a hierarchy, religious and customary laws must not contradict state laws or other regulations that rank above them.

However, it seems that, in the discourse over legal pluralism, no one could imagine that communal, customary and religious laws would be powerless in the face of state laws that were established as a concept of the post-colonial modern state.

Recognizing legal pluralism, which originally aimed to provide recognition and protection for communal, customary and religious laws against the intimidation and oppression of state laws, could lead to legal domination or, at the very least, legal contestation. No one took into account the prerequisites necessary to create such a legal order.

Legal pluralism can only be implemented in a democratic and egalitarian society with equality in social relationships and one that relies on legal philosophy instead of mere personal beliefs. In a non-egalitarian and undemocratic society that does not believe in the principle of equality, legal pluralism can become tyranny. Small laws can be used to shackle bigger laws.

This is being prompted by legal contestations in which religious laws are prioritized over state laws, based on a belief in the sanctity of its source. This is reflected in justifying child marriage through the use of Islamic textual laws that are accepted as actual laws.

In order to resolve this issue, University of Indonesia professor Sulistyowati Irianto said that legal pluralism should be open to new and global regulations, including international conventions on human rights. Legal pluralism should also serve as a tool to correct customary laws when these are not in line with principles of justice.

Loose age boundary

Conventions on child rights and discrimination against women are stronger legal foundations in efforts to prohibit child marriage.

Islamic family law researcher Stjin van Huis of the Netherlands wrote in his research on religious courts in Cianjur and Bulukumba that, in relation to child marriage, judges can refer to social laws and norms in issuing dispensations as long as a minimum age restriction is enforced.

The problem is that Indonesia does not recognize a minimum age restriction for filing marriage dispensations, leading to judges relying mostly on their own discretion in marriage dispensation cases. Therefore, in cases of child marriage, the state seems to lack firmness in implementing age restrictions as stipulated in the Marriage Law. This shows that religious laws still have a significant influence on people – even beyond state laws. Perhaps the influence of religious laws is growing along with the expanding landscape of religious politics in Indonesia’s increasingly conservative public spaces.

As Michael Pelatz wrote in his book, Modern Islam, Religious Courts and Cultural Politics in Malaysia, family law and their implementation by religious courts are critical in helping to create a civil society that abides by national laws and individual rights. At the same time, these laws can free individuals – especially women – from the unjust primordial shackles of ethnicity, traditional customs and gender.


Lies Marcoes

Coordinator of Empowerment Programme, Rumah Kitab

Conflicts and disasters forcing 59 million young people into illiteracy – UNICEF study

31 January 2018 – Nearly three in ten young people between the ages of 15 and 24 living in conflict- or disaster-affected countries are illiterate, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said Wednesday, calling for greater investments in the education, particularly for the most disadvantaged children and youth.

The situation is particularly dire for girls and young women in that age group, with 33 per cent of them in emergency countries failing to learn even the basics, compared to 24 per cent of boys.

“These numbers are a stark reminder of the tragic impact that crises have on children’s education, their futures, and the stability and growth of their economies and societies,” said Henrietta H. Fore, the Executive Director of UNICEF, in a news release announcing the findings.

“An uneducated child who grows into an illiterate youth in a country ripped apart by conflict or destroyed by disasters may not have much of a chance.”

The findings, calculated using literacy data from the UN Educational, Science and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 27 emergency countries, also revealed that Niger, Chad, South Sudan and the Central African Republic – all with a long history of instability and high levels of poverty – recorded the highest illiteracy rates among those aged 15-24 with 76 per cent, 69 per cent, 68 per cent and 64 per cent, respectively, unable to read or write.

Globally, the number stands at 59 million.

Ensuring adequately funding for education programmes, particularly during humanitarian crises, is critical to improve these statistics.

At present, only 3.6 per cent of humanitarian funding goes toward providing education for children living in emergencies, making it one of the least funded sectors in humanitarian appeals.

UNICEF estimates that over the next four years, it will spend approximately $1 billion a year on education programmes.

In its 2018 Humanitarian Action for Children appeal, launched on Tuesday, the UN agency called for $900 million for education in countries affected by conflicts and natural disasters. Some of its key interventions include accelerated education and non-formal learning opportunities, training teachers, rehabilitating schools and distributing school furniture and supplies.

At the same time, UNICEF also called on Governments and partners to provide young children with access to quality early education programmes to support their development and set them up to continue learning throughout their childhood; and offer illiterate young people the opportunity to learn to read and write and further their education through specially designed alternative and accelerated education programmes.

“Education can make or break a child’s future,” said Ms. Fore.

“For all children to fully reap the benefits of learning, it is key that they get the best quality education possible, as early as possible,” she stressed.

The UNICEF analysis has been released ahead of the Global Partnership for Education Replenishment Conference in Dakar, Senegal, (1-2 February) which aims to raise funding for education from partner countries, and current and new donors in order to ensure that all children and youth are in school and learning.