The personal price of lockdown


Indonesia must strengthen its anti-domestic-violence services during the coronavirus crisis


Widespread restriction of mobility has been required to deal with the spread of COVID-19, including stay at home orders, but not all homes are safe, Niken Kusumawardhani writes.

The chance to be able to stay at home in safety during lockdown is truly a privilege. The fact is, under quarantines women carry the burden of caregiving, both for children and the elderly, and face a higher risk of unintended pregnancies and domestic violence. Without well-established emergency services and shelter systems, women locked up with abusive husbands are becoming unwitting victims of the pandemic.

COVID-19 has brought a lot of uncertainty, and has placed limits on choices that people can make. During this time, perpetrators can be triggered to try and regain sense of control and power over their lives, and this can manifest itself in abuse.

A combination of distress, both economic, from lost work or higher costs, and emotional, from increased isolation and confinement, the risk of domestic violence has risen considerably during the pandemic crisis.

Over the years, domestic violence has been the most prevalent type of violence against women in Indonesia, and a recent report shows that during the first month of limited mobility in Jakarta, numbers of reported cases of domestic violence, rape, and sexual assaults have dramatically increased compared to the usual figures.

The cultural taboo against revealing marital problems has become the main barrier in Indonesia for filing reports of violence, causing domestic violence to be severely underreported. Even among victims who come forward, only a handful report to police. Research has found that one of the main barriers preventing women from reporting to police is unfamiliarity with the procedure.

Another barrier for women is financial dependence. There are fears that reporting abuse may land their husband in jail, and the victim will be left with limited resources to survive. This situation will only get worse as the pandemic progresses, as some women who become unable to work will be even more financially dependent on men, and find it even more difficult to leave if their home becomes a toxic environment.

Failure to deliver services for domestic violence survivors during the pandemic may increase the severity of violence cases, and eventually put more burden on the already-strained national health system. As large-scale social restrictions have been imposed in several major cities in Indonesia, it is imperative that governments categorise services for domestic violence victims as essential.

The availability of emergency safe houses and psychological services that are easily accessible by women impacted by domestic violence must be considered a priority for Indonesian policymakers during the coronavirus crisis.

The government must also allocate extra spending to deal with the domestic violence wave that will accompany the rest of the crisis. Unfortunately, none of the 405 trillion rupiah spending for the COVID-19 pandemic is dedicated to anti-domestic violence initiatives.

Before the pandemic, safe houses were only available in some districts, with varying quality and capacity. As construction of new safe houses will take a long time, transforming hotels into a potential safe house for survivors fleeing domestic violence is a more feasible option for the duration of the pandemic.

The government could also use the extra spending to pay for accommodation, food, and other essential needs for women who are forced to leave their homes due to domestic violence.

Recently, the Indonesian government launched a hotline service to connect psychologists with people who need mental health support during the pandemic, including those impacted by domestic violence. This is a great step, but it will still be difficult for victims to call the number while locked up at home with their abusers.

Features such as online chat services, texting, or the usage of secret code words during a call to discreetly seek help would make it easier for victims to reach out, and simple to implement. In addition to psychologists, the hotline service should also be backed up by a team of police and health workers who are well-trained in responding to domestic violence. Formation of this team may require additional economic resources but is surely important enough to be funded using the extra spending set aside for the pandemic.

Initiatives at the grassroots level can help strengthen existing anti-domestic violence measures during the coronavirus crisis. Steps taken by civil society groups, rather than government, to help survivors of domestic violence have started to flourish, especially in Greater Jakarta, the epicenter of the pandemic in the country.

As  some villages already implement their own measures to ensure distancing and caring for infected neighbours, they should also incorporate anti-domestic violence initiatives into their activism in the community.

For example, village volunteers and neighbourhood watch members could be educated, empowered to detect signs of violence, and then maintain regular communication with the neighbours. Village chiefs and community leaders should also increase their readiness in providing safe houses and receiving report from survivors.

More than just a global health issue, the COVID-19 pandemic has created serious disruption for so many aspects of everyday life. In the middle of high death tolls from the disease itself, it is easy to overlook the scale of what COVID-19 is doing to those who do not contract it.

Policies designed to limit mobility in the pandemic should not come at the expense of the safety of women, and Indonesia must use this hard time as an opportunity to strengthen its domestic violence services. A failure to provide comprehensive domestic violence services will create greater loss for Indonesia, both to its health care system, and society, and amount to an act negligence toward its own people.

If you or someone you know are experiencing domestic violence in Indonesia and require support, you can contact P2TP2A or Unit Pelayanan Perempuan dan Anak (PPA) Polda for help. In Australia, you can find resources to get support here or dial 1800 RESPECT.


COVID-19: Indonesian police deny higher crime rate solely due to release of prisoners to curb outbreak

JAKARTA: Indonesian housewife Lila Kusumah, 37, is worried about her family’s safety after several houses nearby were said to have been robbed this month.

The security guards in her neighbourhood in South Tangerang, on the outskirts of Jakarta, claimed that about 10 people have been arrested.

Residents were also told that the alleged perpetrators were among the 38,000 convicts released from overcrowded jails nationwide in early April to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Upon hearing these, Mdm Kusumah is taking extra precautions to safeguard her house.

“At night I used to ask my eldest son to lock the gate, but now I do it myself to be really sure it is locked tightly,” she said.

“I’m now very vigilant. Every time I have to go out (on my motorbike), I always look at the rear view mirrors to make sure no one is following me.”

Early last week, Indonesia’s national police spokesman Grand Commissioner Asep Adi Saputra said there had been an 11.8 per cent increase in crime rate in the country during the first two weeks of April.

“In week 15 (of 2020) there were 3,423 cases and in week 16, there were 3,827 cases,” he told CNA.

Crimes committed were largely theft such as motor vehicle theft.

Another police spokesman Brigadier General Argo Yuwono revealed on Tuesday (Apr 21) in a press conference that 28 ex-convicts have committed crimes after their release, although he clarified the next day that not all of them were recently released from jail this month.

He added that the police have taken preventive measures such as patrolling and guarding certain areas to deter crime.

However, the police said the release of prisoners is not the only factor contributing to the higher crime rate. At the meantime, non-governmental organisations also urged the government to look into ensuring social support for these ex-convicts, so that they do not return to the path of crime while trying to fend for themselves.


The government has granted the early release of about 38,000 convicts as of Apr 28 to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in overcrowded prisons in Indonesia.

Only those who committed general crimes and juvenile inmates who have served at least two-thirds of their sentence were set free.

In capital Jakarta, about 2,000 prisoners were discharged.

The Indonesian police have acknowledged that the release of these convicts may have led to the increasing crime rate, but stressed it is not the only contributing factor.

“The rise and fall of crimes are influenced by many important factors. The prevention and handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in Indonesia do not only have an impact on formal workers but also informal workers … especially those who have lost their income,” said the head of the national police security maintenance agency Commissioner General Agus Andrianto.

He noted that it is especially important for social aid to be distributed quickly to ensure the livelihood of everyone, not just former convicts.

“There are also people who take advantage of the situation when all are focused on handling the spread of COVID-19,” Commissioner General Andrianto said.


He added that to prevent crime, the police are also educating people on how to spend their time at home and coordinating with local head villagers to create work programmes. The police also encourage people who are not economically affected by the pandemic to help those who cannot fulfil their basic needs.

To ensure that they do not turn to crime again, authorities are using online methods to guide and supervise them, said Andika Dwi Prasetya, head of the correction facilities of the Law and Human Rights Ministry for the Jakarta region.

The ex-convicts and their family members must be contactable any time, Mr Prasetya explained.

“If we lose contact with them, our officers from the correctional centres will immediately go to their places of residence,” he told CNA

The department also liaised with relevant parties such as the police to help supervise the former prisoners.Authorities are cautious and firm, Mr Prasetya added.


“If they do commit crime again we will send them back to jail to serve their remaining sentence, and there will be a tougher sentence.

“Of course we will also process the new crime,” Mr Prasetya said.

He hoped the public understand the government’s purpose of releasing the inmates amid the COVID-19 outbreak. If people chance upon these ex-convicts committing crime, they should immediately inform the ministry’s office in their respective neighbourhoods, he added.


Mdm Lies Marcoes, the director of Rumah Kitab, a non-governmental organisation focusing on research and advocacy for minority and marginalised groups, said even under normal circumstances, crime prevention efforts need to address the root causes such as social inequality.

“Now in the abnormal situation due to COVID-19, extra measures are needed. Law enforcement efforts and crime prevention must be raised by increasing the number of officers in crime hotspots and intensifying self-protection campaigns,” she said.


Mdm Marcoes added that the government must ensure people have access to food and other basic needs such as water and electricity.

“Equally important is the availability of jobs without stigma even in the midst of a job crisis. The point is that the state must boost its effort to protect citizens from criminals who take advantage of the current vulnerable situation,” she said.

Mr Prasetya, head of Jakarta’s correction facilities, said the department is arranging for these ex-convicts to be part of the government’s social aid programmes, so that they can receive assistance immediately.

Full access to income support, social services and medical care will keep the ex-prisoners out of trouble, the Indonesia director of Amnesty International Usman Hamid told CNA.

“The government also has the obligation to make sure that equal access for COVID-19 related programmes such as income support is given to people with certain vulnerabilities, especially those who have just lost their daily income and jobs amid their limited access to social services and medical healthcare,” he said.

The government must also work with civil societies and organisations that have been working on prison reforms, Mr Hamid added.




How intolerance can persist in democratic countries: the case of Indonesia

Is tolerance among different groups a prerequisite for democracy?

Indonesia’s case shows that it’s not. Democracy, a system of government based on elected representation, is thriving in the world’s most populous Muslim country. Democratically elected presidents have governed Southeast Asia’s largest economy since the fall of Soeharto’s authoritarian regime in 1998. The country has just carried out elections in April.

At the same time intolerance of minority groups is widespread.

The capital, Jakarta, and former capital, Yogyakarta, located about 500km southeast from Jakarta, are top of the list on the Indonesia Democracy Index. But they are also listed as the most intolerant cities, according to human rights advocacy group Setara Institute. Its latest report indicates that this is due to poor regulation and governance in response to intolerant practices in both cities.

Referring to these cases in Jakarta and Yogyakarta, we argue that democracy and tolerance are independent of each other.

Democracy can still perform in Indonesia despite intolerance of minority groups. To ensure that consensus as a prerequisite for a democratic society can be reached, the minority has no choice but to keep silent and succumb to the power of the majority.

Democratic but intolerant in Yogyakarta and Jakarta

Last year, Indonesia’s Statistics Agency published a report showing the Indonesian Democracy Index improved in 2017, compared to 2016. The index rates each province in Indonesia based on its civil liberties, political rights and democratic institutions.

Yogyakarta, the seat of the Javanese monarch Hamengkubuwono X, has always secured top spot in the index in the past few years.

However, Yogyakarta’s tolerance index was the sixth-lowest compared to 93 other cities in 2017.

The Centre for Religious and Cross-cultural Studies identified around 66 violent conflicts in Yogyakarta between 2011 and 2016. In the latest case this year, 11 wooden crosses at a Christian cemetery in Yogyakarta were destroyed. A village in Yogyakarta also recently barred a non-Muslim from living in their village.

A similar pattern can be found in Jakarta.

The capital was rated Indonesia’s most democratic city for three years: 2014, 2015 and 2017.

In 2016, Jakarta lost that title due to a combination of acts of communal violence by sections of society and a poor response from the local administration in handling these violent cases. Jakarta ranked 24th out of 34 provinces in 2016.

However, similar to Yogyakarta, Jakarta scored the lowest in the tolerance index in 2017.

Jakarta gained its status as an intolerant city after intolerant practices by Muslim conservatives marred its gubernatorial election in 2017. In the end, the conservative groups ousted Christian-Chinese incumbent Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama.

Between democracy and tolerance

There are at least two conditions to have a democratic society. First, it must ensure equality for all actors to participate in decision-making processes.

Second, when conflicts arise, society can manage them within defined and universally accepted boundaries.

For example, imagine that you are attending a public forum or discussion to choose a leader for your community. The organiser announces that each one of you has the same right to participate and you are delighted to hear that. As the debates continue between different sides defending their arguments, you realise that things may become uncontrolled as no one wants to compromise and no one wants to lose.

Hours later, everybody is tired, and someone finally says: “Let’s remember that each one of us should have the same right to participate, therefore, let’s ask each one of us who is the better leader, then the one who has the most support wins.”

There you have the ideal condition that most democracies imagine today: participation and manageable conflict.

Let’s turn to tolerance. We define tolerance as putting up with those we disagree with, dislike, or who are different from us, without coercion. Don’t forget that the act of tolerance means that one side (the one that tolerates) accepts the other side (the one that is tolerated) so it masks unbalanced power relations. Therefore, in the context of plural communities, tolerance from both sides is needed.

From the conceptual exercise, we can argue that tolerance is highly relevant in democracies because disagreements, dislikes and differences are inevitable in plural communities.

Intolerant practices in the democratic sphere

It is also important to note that consensus in a democratic society can be reached through domination by the majority that silences the minority.

Elizabeth Noelle-Neumann, a leading German researcher on public opinion, calls the process a “spiral of silence”.

From the “spiral of silence framework”, we can see how an idea takes hold in society.

We can see how this concept works through analysing how the rejection of Ahok, which was based on racial and religious grounds, could be accepted.

Ahok’s rejection was made possible through a mainstreaming of Islamic values via popular culture and daily lives. This process is called “normalisation”.

As a result of this normalisation, it is difficult to counter the intolerant narratives without being accused of being anti-Islam. Living in a Muslim-majority country, people fear the anti-Islam label.

A similar thing also happens in Yogyakarta. The minority tends to accept mistreatment by the majority as they feel the power of the majority is so big that it doesn’t leave any option for the minority but to succumb. They also feel that their fight against intolerant practices will be useless as those in authority and legal enforcers tend to defend the majority.

Both processes of mainstreaming and normalisation are arguably part of efforts to push ideas belonging to the majority to dominate the public sphere, while at the same time suppressing opposing ideas belonging to minority groups.

Democracy in Indonesia, then, seems to allow the majority to rule over the minority. What is happening in Jakarta and Yogyakarta shows that consensus in a democratic setting can be continuously achieved, but it will not always be a tolerant one.


Azhar launches awareness campaigns against child marriage

CAIRO – 4 October 2017: In response to President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s bid to crackdown on child marriage, Al-Azhar announced the launch of awareness-raising campaigns against the practice.

Sheikh Abbas Shoman, the deputy sheikh of Egypt’s al-Azhar institute, said Friday’s sermons will primarily address child marriages and its impacts, particularly in rural areas where it is prominent.

Ahmad al-Tayeb, the grand imam of Al-Azhar said that there are no sacred texts in Islam allowing child marriages, adding that Islam doesn’t set a specific age at which people can get married.

He added that Islam explicitly prohibits any practices that could lead to health complications or unavoidable physiological harm, which can apply to child marriages.

Recently, in one of the villages of Al-Mahallah al-Kubra, in the middle of the Nile Delta, an imam approved 27 cases of customary marriages for girls below 18 years of age.

Because of a law drafted in 2008 as part of Egypt’s Child Law to raise the age of marriage to 18 prohibiting child marriages, this imam convinced the families in the village that couples could have customary marriages until girls reach the eligible age, after which the bond would be made legal.



Rumah KitaB organizes meetings with partners engaged in the prevention of child marriages including inviting partners in pesantren and holding discussions in pesantren as well.


Poverty Rate Drops to Single Digit, Inequality Declines

Jakarta. Indonesia’s poverty rate declined to a single digit  in March — for the first time in the country’s history — thanks to the government’s social assistance programs, the Central Statistics Agency, or BPS, reveled on Monday (16/07).

A decline in poverty has been recorded for two decades, since the 1997 monetary crisis, when the poverty rate reached 23.43 percent.

BPS data shows that 25.95 million people, or 9.82 percent of the population, live below the poverty line of less than Rp 401,220 ($29) a month — the minimum amount allowing a diet of 2,100 calories a day.

Last year, 27.72 million people (10.64 percent of the population) were under the poverty line.

“In March 2018, for the first time Indonesia achieved a single digit poverty rate … It is due to an increase in the rice distribution program [Rastra] and non-cash food assistance in the first quarter of 2018, which is right on schedule,” BPS head Suhariyanto told reporters.

According to him, the implementation of the program was nearly 100 percent, with 99.65 percent in January, 99.66 percent in February and 99.62 percent in March.

The government’s social assistance, which was 87.6 percent higher in the first quarter of 2018 than in last year’s first quarter, also played a big role in reducing poverty. In the first quarter of 2017, social assistance grew only 3.39 percent.

Under its non-cash food assistance program, the Ministry of Social Affairs wants to distribute rice to 5.2 million families by the end of July. Out of 15.5 million families in need of food aid, 4.2 million have already received it.

The government this year increased the ministry’s aid budget to Rp 34 trillion, from only Rp 17.3 trillion last year.

Indonesia’s poor live mostly in the countryside — 15.81 million people — especially in Java (13.34 million people).

The highest poverty rate, however, is recorded in eastern Indonesia, particularly in Maluku and Papua (21.20 percent), followed by Bali and Nusa Tenggara (14.02 percent), Sulawesi (10.64 percent) and Sumatra (10.39 percent).

Infrastructure development in the region is expected to help reduce poverty, Suhariyanto said.

Inequality Also Declines

BPS data shows that the level of income inequality in Indonesia, measured by the Gini coefficient, fell slightly to 0.389 in March from 0.393 in the same period last year.

In urban areas the coefficient decreased to 0.401 from 0.404, while in rural areas it rose to 0.324 from 0.320.

The most equal income distribution is recorded in Bangka Belitung, North Kalimantan and North Sumatra, the least equal in Yogyakarta, Southeast Sulawesi and West Java.

According to the government’s medium-term development plan, the poverty rate next year is expected to decrease to between 7 percent and to 8 percent, while the Gini coefficient to 0.36.


Sultan of Yogyakarta: A feminist revolution in an ancient kingdom

The Sultan of Yogyakarta holds a powerful political and spiritual position on the Indonesian island of Java. He is manoeuvring to make his eldest daughter his heir, sparking a bitter feud, as the BBC’s Indonesia editor Rebecca Henschke reports.

“From generation to generation the sultan who reigns over Yogyakarta seems to adapt himself to the changing of times,” says Wedono Bimo Guritno quietly as he ushers me through the elaborate palace complex.

He is one of the nearly 1,500 abdi dalam, members of the royal court. A keris, a sacred Javanese dagger, is tucked into his sarong.

“In the past it was not difficult to choose a prince, because in the past, the sultan had more than one wife,” Wedono Bimo Guritno tells me. We duck under low gateways into a maze of tree-lined courtyards surrounding the Kraton Kilen, the Sultan’s private residence.

“But you know it’s always been women that hold the real power in Javanese households,” Bimo says with a smile.

Younger princess at her wedding

Gusti Kanjeng Ratu Hayu says she was raised to be equal with men

As is required of anyone entering the palace, I have been traditionally dressed and groomed for over an hour. I am in a tight batik sarong, with a black silk blouse known as a kebaya. My hair has been pulled back and tied into tight bun, a sanggul.

Everything in this palace, from the placement of trees to the movements made by the royal court, has meaning.

In Javanese culture, things are not said directly, but instead conveyed by symbolism.

The sultan, who is 72, recently changed his own title so that it is gender neutral and has given his eldest daughter the new name Gusti Kanjeng Ratu Mangkubumi – which means The One Who Holds the Earth.

That was seen as further indication she is being lined up to take over the throne when the time comes.

The princess laughs when I say her title holds a lot of responsibility.

“As in all families, as the eldest I have more responsibility than my sisters. But what the future holds, that decision is the hands of my father,” she says with a smile.

She rarely talks publicly about succession and is careful with her words.

“I have been raised not to dream about those things, or hold wishes beyond living a happy life now.”

But she adds: “There have been queens in Aceh and in other Islam kingdoms, that’s all I need to say.”

Eldest daughter during our exclusive interview

Princess Mangkubumi has been given the title The One Who Holds the Earth

Her younger sister, Gusti Kanjeng Ratu Hayu, is bolder in speaking about the unprecedented power the princesses have been given.

They were all sent overseas to study in Europe, America and Australia and now hold various leadership positions in the palace that were once the domain of men.

“I am very lucky to have parents that never said that is not a woman’s job,” she says in fluent English.

“It doesn’t sit well with some people but when the sultan says so, you kind of have to go along with it,” she laughs.

“That’s the importance of a man saying that it’s not the time for women to stay back any more.”

They will be evicted

The sultan’s brothers and sisters are not going along with it. They are outraged and most of them, like GBPH Prabukusumo, are now refusing to speak with the sultan or attend royal events.

“We are an Islamic royal family and the title is for a man. What would we call her – the sultante? It’s impossible,” he laughs.

Two of the most outspoken brothers of the sultan

The sultan’s siblings are no longer talking to him or attending royal events

He says the move is a dangerous break with hundreds of years of tradition and accused his brother’s family of being power-hungry and greedy.

And he sends a strong warning about what will happen.

“We have made a family commitment that we will not fight now, but when the sultan has left this world, we have an agreement with the people that we will drive his wife and his daughters out of the palace.”

“They will be evicted, as they are no longer members of our family,” he says.

That would create quite I stir, I say.

“That’s OK, just remember who is in the wrong here.”

Two queens?

Outside the palace walls most people are reluctant to take sides, saying they will accept the decision of the royal family.

Women of the court.

There is concern about what the Queen of the South Sea will think of a female monarch

But among the devoted followers there is concern about what the Queen of the South Sea will think.

The Javanese royal rule stretches back to the 16th Century and while the family is now Muslim like most Indonesians, the rituals they carry out are steeped in mysticism, a product of Hinduism, Buddhism and animism of the past.

And tradition has it that the Sultan of Yogyakarta has to take the goddess Kanjeng Ratu Loro Kidul as his mystical wife.

“There is a vow between the sultan and the Queen of the South Sea Loro Kidul that has been written down in our sacred text, that together they will rule and keep the peace,” explains the Sultan’s brother GBPH Yudaningrat.

Fingernail clippings and locks of the sultan’s hair are offered to the sea goddess every year. They are also offered to the ogre Sapu Jagat inside Mount Merapi, one of Indonesia’s most active volcanoes that looms over the city.

Women doing ceremonial cooking of sacred cakes.

Rituals in the palace are carried out in the same way they have been for hundreds of years

The offerings and spiritual union are meant to ensure the sacred alignment between the volcano, the palace in the middle, and the Indian Ocean, and thus the safety of the people.

“What will happen if there are two queens? How can they be together? I am not sure that can happen,” asks Agus Suwanto, a tour guide outside the palace.

That’s a good question and a good point, smiles Wedono Bimo Guritno, the palace guide, when I ask him.

“The sultan’s role is to keep both the goddess of the south sea and the god of the volcano in balance. Some people forget about the volcano, god. I am sure the sultan will make a wise decision for the people of Yogyakarta.”

Challenging times

The Sultan of Yogyakarta also has to make decisions about more earthly matters as the governor of the city and the surrounding area.


When Indonesia gained independence, Jakarta allowed the Yogyakarta royal family to keep its power, out of gratitude for their role in fighting the colonial Dutch rulers.

So Yogyakarta is the only place in Indonesia where residents don’t get to directly elect their leader. When it was suggested by Jakarta that this should change in 2010 there were angry protests on the streets of Yogyakarta and the central government backed down.

Yogya boy wearing campaign image of the Queens bid for the senate.

The Sultan of Yogyakarta is the last in Indonesia with real political power.

But Sultan Hamengkubuwono X has been a controversial modern leader with wide ranging political and business ambitions.

When Mount Merapi started erupting in 2006 he told villagers to listen to scientists rather than the palace-appointed gatekeeper of the volcano about when to evacuate.

And some in Yogyakarta accuse him of turning this cultural, once sleepy, capital into a city of shopping malls, billboards and high-rise buildings.

Mystic Islam

These are challenging times for Java’s unique moderate, mystical form of Islam that the Sultan and the Kraton represents.

Sultan Hamengkubuwono X with Prince Charles.

Sultan Hamengkubuwono X is a prominent moderate Islamic leader.

Veneration of objects or idols, and hints to polytheism, run in conflict with the Wahhabis strain of Islam that is growing in popularity in Java.

“I run the social media pages for the palace and I see this conservative view,” says Princess Gusti Hayu.

“But we have reasons why we carry out rituals here the way we do and it might not be exactly the same as in the Koran but we don’t stray, we don’t do weird cult things,” she laughs.

Princess Haryu showing respect to her mother and father.

Princess Haryu says opening up the palace is the only way for the culture to survive

“This is an Islamic kingdom, it’s not about walking around looking like someone from the Middle East and just sounding very religious. Islam is woven into everything we do daily.”

She says past royal families took pride in being exclusive and being shrouded in mysticism, but that the way to survive is to open the palace up.

“So the young don’t lose touch with their Javanese side because if we lose our cultural identity it’s not going to come back.”

Despite an increasing number of young Javanese Muslim women now choosing to wear the headscarf, hijabs are not allowed in the palace.

“Lots of women who wear the headscarf take it off when they enter the Kraton for rituals, voluntarily, and put it on again when they leave,” says the Queen Gusti Kanjeng Ratu Hemas .

“This is not about religion, it’s about protecting our culture and tradition and society understands that. The Sultan is above all religions.”

But this is increasingly a provocative stance to take in today’s Indonesia.

Recently the daughter of Indonesia’s first President Sukarno, Sukmawati, was reported to the police for blasphemy and forced to apologise for saying in a poem that the Javanese hairbun was more beautiful than a Islamic chador.

Queen during the interview

Queen Gusti Kanjeng Ratu Hemas is accused by the Sultans family of leading the revolt.

The sultan’s extended family accuses the queen, who is a senator in the national parliament, of leading the revolt against tradition.

She says she raised her daughters to be independent and to believe they were equal to men.

“When my daughters were 15 years I told them they had to leave the palace, to get educated in the world, to bring back what they learnt.”

Grooming them for leadership? I ask.

That decision is in the hands of the sultan, she says firmly.

“But, yes, the heir has to be the bloodline, so there is no need for you to dig deeper.”

“There will always be conflict and power struggles at times of change,” she adds.


‘It’s tradition’: The child brides of Indonesia’s Sumenep Regency

SUMENEP REGENCY, Indonesia: Bold makeup in hues of red and black lined their eyes, hair adorned with buds of jasmine, a bejewelled golden plate rested upon their foreheads, while more gold complemented vibrant clothing cinched at their waists.

Their small hands were intricately lined with a type of dye resembling henna; and while they looked like miniature human dolls, their faces were glum.

Shifty-eyed, fidgety and trying to keep their nervousness in check, these are the child brides and grooms of Sumenep Regency at their wedding.

Both the brides and grooms have bold makeup on their faces. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

Getting to Sumenep is no easy feat. The regency is 170km away from Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city, on the island of Madura.

You’ll have to fly from Jakarta to Surabaya, which could take anywhere between 75 and 90 minutes and then embark on a four-hour drive; this is how we found ourselves driving into the regency one morning, passing dozens of salt farms along the way.


The children, six of them, were at their wedding reception being held at a field with a large tent in the district of Dungkek.

According to guests, the children had just married that morning – the oldest was a fourteen-year-old boy who married a 13-year-old; the youngest, a four-year-old child, was wed to a five-year-old boy, and the last couple were a pair of six-year-olds.

Parents of the brides and grooms took turns between standing at the entrance of the tent to welcome guests and accompany their children, who sat quietly on the sidelines of a feast held in their honour.

The youngest child at the wedding reception was a 4 year-old girl. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

Alimatus Sadya, a mother of one of the brides explained that child marriage is commonplace in Madura.

“If anyone asks for the hand of your first child in marriage, you have to agree,” she said.

Her daughter, the oldest bride at thirteen years old, lurched forward and retched as she struggled to keep her emotions at bay. She was quickly pacified by Ms Alimatus and others around her.

The space under the tent was divided into two sections, one for men and the other for women.

Plush velvet sofas with golden frames sat atop a stage on one end. This is where guests were taking photos with the newlyweds prior to the feast.

A 13-year old child bride attempts to hide her emotions at by the side of her stage at her wedding reception. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

A band positioned at the centre of the tent played traditional music and female dancers were putting on a show for the men, dancing closely with them while being showered with rupiah bills.

A group of men and women in each section were also huddled together as they made a note of every gift that the families of the children received, both of monetary and non-monetary value.

Another parent, Fitri, who goes by one name as many Indonesians do, explained that the children had been matched by their parents – her son and daughter had both been married off.

“Well, over here it’s like that, they’re married off at a young age; it’s tradition,” she said with a laugh. “I am so happy.”


In 2016, the National Statistics Agency supported by UNICEF launched two reports on child marriage.

The report showed that the rate of child marriage in Indonesia remains high, with over one in four girls marrying before reaching adulthood.

Based on data from 2008 to 2015, the percentage of “ever-married” women aged 20 to 24 who married before the age of 18 across 33 provinces in Indonesia ranked by average prevalence, placed West Sulawesi in the top spot, while East Java ranked 14th.

Research done in June this year by an NGO, the Rumah Kita Bersama Foundation, showed that close to 70 per cent of the people in Madura’s Sumenep regency married before the age of 18.

The district of Dungkek had the highest number of child marriages in the regency, with about 80 per cent of its nearly 4,000 people – as per national population records in 2015 – having married as children.

Executive director for the foundation, Lies Marcoes Natsir, said that in Sumenep, it is usually because parents want a debt repaid.

“The people have a tradition, usually if they throw a party, they receive a lot of support from their neighbours – and this is a reciprocal occurrence, actually,” she explained.

Guests lay money on the floor for dancers at the wedding reception of the six children. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

“So, they can throw a party because other people owe them a debt. Now, this has been in practice for a very long time, their ancestors did this and they always make a note,” said Lies.

“So if one family has a child, and they feel they want to collect what is owed to them from their neighbours – to whom they have already provided some sort of support – ‘tumpangan’ is what they call it – they will organise the marriage of their child, even if the child is still little.”

According to Lies, one of Indonesia’s foremost experts in Islam and gender as well as a women’s rights activist, the goal is to collect a debt.

So, in the event of a drought for example, or in times of financial difficulty, families tend to get their children betrothed and organise a party.

A guest at the wedding reception showers a dancer with rupiah bills. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

In the case of younger children, the marriage is known as a “hanging betrothal”.

This arrangement means that while their marriage has been solemnised, they are “promised” to each other.

The children will only live together as husband and wife when they are deemed to be old enough by their parents to do so, which could be when they are as young as 14 years old.

Until then, the children live separately and continue their education, only for the “husband” to visit his “wife” during holidays and religious celebrations.


Fifteen-year-old Uus (not her real name) married her boyfriend last year when she was just 14. He was 19 at the time and he had asked her parents for her hand in marriage. The two had known each other for a year.

“We were only married by a religious teacher … compared to just being boyfriend and girlfriend, such an unclear status, it’s better to have something that is certain,” she said, a reason which resonated with several of the child brides Channel NewsAsia spoke to.

Traditional music accompanies the newlyweds as they ride out of the party compound on horses. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

Muslim marriages in Indonesia must be registered at the government’s Religious Affairs Office (KUA), something Uus and her husband have not done. This means that the two do not have a marriage certificate.

“We haven’t gone to the religious office; I’m not legal yet,” said Uus.

What the young couple have done is known as “nikah siri”, which translates to mean unregistered or secret marriages – this is highly prevalent in Sumenep.

Indonesia’s 2002 Law on Child Protection prohibits marriage under the age of 18 under any circumstances, and such a marriage cannot be registered at the Religious Affairs Office.

But the country’s marriage laws are murky. Under the 1974 Marriage Law, which sets the legal parameters for marriage in the country, parental consent is required for all marriages under the age of 21.

With parental consent, girls can legally marry at the minimum age of 16 and boys at 19, providing they obtain approval from the religious court.

Parents can also file a petition at the religious court or district court to apply for an exemption and get their daughter to marry even earlier, with no minimum age limit, pending an approval.

“Well, if possible, we approve their request if the bride is 16 years old, because they are already mentally mature, so I think it’s okay,” Risana Yulinda, head of the religious court in Sumenep Regency told Channel NewsAsia.

“But sometimes in the event that the child is two months, three months shy of turning 16, we’ll also approve the request because it’s just a little bit of time,”

With parental consent, girls can legally marry at the minimum age of 16 in Indonesia. (Photo: AFP/ STR) 

Applications to marry off children below the age of 16 years were assessed on a case-by-case basis, she said.

“Are they Muslims? Are there any obstacles to the relationship such as them being siblings? Is there a proposal from someone else? If they marry, is their husband ready to provide for them? Are they pregnant? These are all factors that we consider,” said Risana.

But anecdotal evidence suggests that many parents skip getting an approval from the court.

Instead, couples apply for a retroactive confirmation of the marriage when they reach an age deemed legal by Indonesian law.

According to Risana, couples generally apply for a retroactive confirmation when they need to get their paperwork in order.

For example, if they need to make a passport, or if they need to make a birth certificate for their child, these situations require a marriage certificate.

There were more than 200 couples in 2016 who applied for confirmation, she said. With no way for authorities to prove that they were children when the marriage took place, such loopholes only make underage marriages all the more difficult to tackle.

While tradition is a main factor for the practice, according to observers, religion plays a key role in its support.

“Religion has made it legitimate for members of the community to say that getting a child married is the right of the guardian, and when they get a child married, they base that right on the fact that the Prophet married Siti Aisyah when she was nine years old,” said Tatik Hidayati, a lecturer at the Anuqqayah Institute of Islamic Sciences.

“So they use that as a justification that Islam doesn’t forbid it.”

These factors only add to the age debate.


Records from the National Statistics Agency shows that there were 554 couples who divorced in 2016. There were also 55 cases of underage marriage sentenced by the Religious Court of Sumenep in the same year.

Sumenep is about 170km from Surabaya, Indonesia’s second largest city. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

While there is no official data on whether the two overlap, or how many of the divorced couples married as children, authorities say the high divorce rate can be attributed to child marriage, and that they are working to tackle the issue through community engagement, by implementing various programmes.

“In fact in our planning programme, the most ideal age for women (to marry and bear children) is 21 years old, for men it is 25, which is the most ideal. According to their mental state, they are ready,” said Herman Poernomo, Head of Sumenep’s Empowerment of Women, Child Protection & Family Planning Office.

“If you marry your child off and he or she isn’t happy or prosperous, then what’s the point?” asked Herman, with the question he said he generally posed to parents wanting to marry off their children.

But many parents in Sumenep feel bound to the practice out of fear of their girls becoming so-called “spinsters”, a status attached to societal stigma.

Sumarni was married at the age of 13. While she has a daughter of her own now, she said her parents were worried that she would always remain single, which is why they arranged for her marriage.

“The first night (together) I didn’t know anything, I only knew how to cry.”

According to Sumarni, once a child is married, they become their husband’s responsibility, and this also motivates many parents to marry their children off.

There is also a general sense of concern among parents in the regency of their children spending time in close physical proximity with members of the opposite sex, sparking fears among parents who worry that it “could lead to something.”

Authorities have said that they cannot force parents who are accustomed to these traditions forego the practice, but what they have been trying to do is familiarise them with the consequences in an effort to approach the issue with sensitivity.

Marrying as children is detrimental from a health perspective as well, parents are told.

A mother sits with her newly-wed daughter on her lap. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

“A child who marries below the age of 15 and then gives birth, from a physical point of view it is not her time to give birth yet, so a woman’s reproductive organs are not ready for pregnancy,” said Hajah Kusmawati, head of health promotion at the regency’s health office.

She also cited the list of possible health conditions a pregnant child might go through in the course of giving birth, the extremity of which, is death.

“Abortion or the aborting of a baby because the child isn’t ready (to become a parent), internal bleeding, having a baby born underweight, then there’s also asphyxia, and a long labour.

“On the psychological front, the child is still a teenager, she will still wants to ‘have fun playing’; automatically, she won’t be optimal in taking care of a child she gave birth to,” Hajah said, adding that the parents or grandparents will take care of the child in such cases.

Data cited by the regency’s health office said that of about 69,200 teenagers in Sumenep, nine were pregnant in 2016, lower than the office’s 15-person estimate for the year.

According to Hajah, while children in the regency still got married, nowadays, they were likely to wait to before having children, at least until they turned 18 years old.

The health office, just like Sumenep’s Empowerment of Women, Child Protection & Family Planning Office, also engages the community with their programmes, which propagate healthy marriages at the age of 21 for girls, and 25 for boys.

In addition to their familiarisation programmes, the department provides counselling for children and parents as well, including having a dialogue with those who attempt to legitimise the practice by bringing religion into the matter.

Despite these programmes, the regency’s authorities emphasised that the country’s conflicting marital laws are an obstacle in their efforts. According to them, the onus is on the central government to revise the rules.


Religious teachers have always played a key role in advising members of the community on traditional practices.

“Some traditions need to be upheld while others, child marriage among them, don’t,” stressed K Safraji, head of the Majelis Ulama Indonesia (MUI) in Sumenep regency, or the Indonesian Ulema Council, Indonesia’s highest clerical body.

K Safraji, head of the Indonesian Ulema Council in Sumenep regency walks by a group of boys sitting at a mosque after school. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

In 2015, Indonesia’s Constitutional Court rejected an application to raise the marriageable age for girls from 16 to 18 years, on the grounds that raising the marriageable age would not guarantee a reduction in divorce rates nor would it solve health and social problems.

But, in a landmark moment, female clerics this year urged the government to do just that. They issued an unprecedented fatwa or edict against child marriage after a three-day congress held in Cirebon, West Java province.

While an edict is non-binding, it is influential – and serves as a guideline for Muslims to practice their faith according to the local context.

Earlier this year, the government also said that it would seek the help of male clerics, who deliver Friday prayer sermons in mosques to campaign against the practice of child marriage.

In Sumenep, these movements have begun but haven’t made much progress yet, with majority of the clerics in there unaware of the efforts.

“So far, no one from the government has come to familiarise us with these efforts yet to prevent child marriage,” said Lestariyadi, a cleric and head of the Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s biggest Muslim organisation, for Sumenep’s Batang-Batang district.

He added that he was optimistic about a positive change, at least for Sumenep’s children, if authorities spread word about the programme and got everyone on board to carry it out.

Indonesian Ulema Council Head, K Safraji said they had already begun engaging the community to spread awareness on the problem.

The Indonesian government said that it would seek the help of male clerics, who deliver Friday prayer sermons in mosques to campaign against the practice of child marriage. (Photo: AFP/ Juni Kriswanto) 

The Council also implemented a strict vetting process when families approached them to get their children married he said, being sure to ask questions about age, and whether the couple had gone to the Religious Affairs Office to register their marriage.

One problem he said which still occurs and which they are trying to tackle is the manipulation of data.

“Just sometimes, there is some manipulation done by the parents, where they will tell the Office that a child is say already 16 years old, when in reality, he or she is just 11,” he said.


Indonesia has committed to achieving its Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, its aims include eliminating all harmful practices against girls and women including child marriage.

But the Indonesian Coalition to End Child Marriage (18+ Coalition) in November issued a statement saying there had been no significant decrease in the number of child marriage rates in the past eight years.

The group cited data from the National Statistics Agency which showed child marriage rates were 27.4 per cent in 2008, and while they declined to 22.8 per cent in 2015, the rates went up to 25.7 per cent in 2017.

The group has accused the government of failing to commit to its goal.

“This indicates that the alleviation of child in marriage Indonesia has suffered a setback,” the group said in its press release.

Indonesia is ranked 37 on the global child marriage index and is the second highest in Southeast Asia after Cambodia.

With statistics like these, Lies Marcoes Natsir of the Rumah Kita Bersama Foundation said the situation concerning child marriage had reached a “critical” phase – at “emergency” level.

But while the problem is multi-layered, Lies is optimistic that the issue can make headway on certain conditions which should be addressed ahead of others.

“There are two conditions that I believe should be addressed immediately. The first one, is the state’s willingness to explore the possibility of reproduction and sexual education,” she said.

Pregnancy is also one of the reasons children are forced to marry she explained.

“We conducted research in 2014-2015 in nine regencies across five provinces, and we found that out of 52 children who were married, 36 among them got married because they were pregnant, pregnant and underage.”

In this context, the Religious Affairs Office (KUA) and the Religious Court fall under pressure from parents.

According to Lies, if the Religious Affairs Office declines to approve their marriage, parents would then go to the village branch and marry off their children without officially registering them, or, they would manipulate data such as the date of births and make the marriage happen.

The second issue according to Lies has to do with mindset.

“I believe is that if the child is already pregnant, what should be done – the child has two choices – either abortion or to bring the pregnancy to full term without having to marry.”

Lies went on to explain that the government must be brave enough to be able to tell people not to punish the baby or the mother, whether for being illegitimate or having so-called “bad morals”.

“If the government or all of us can be open and honest about these facts, then there is hope,” she said.

“But if this is not carried out, even if there is a national effort, or a coalition among the ministries, but they do not want to be open about sexuality, then it will be very difficult.”


Kneeling woman is brutally caned for adultery by masked sharia law enforcer in Indonesia

  • Those who are sentenced to the brutal punishment are hit up to 29 times  
  • The sentence is carried out by a masked sharia enforcer in a specially built area
  • People are flogged for variety of crimes, including standing too close to partner
  • Aceh allowed to have Sharia as part of peace deal following 30 year insurgency 

Ten people have been caned for adultery in the Indonesian province of Aceh, where strict sharia law is in force.

The pictures show a man and a woman, who is in obvious distress, being led to a specially erected covered area where they are caned by a masked sharia enforcer, known as an ‘algojo’

The woman is forced to kneel before her punishment begins, which usually consists of the prisoner being hit up to 29 times for their so-called crime.

A woman is forced to kneel before being caned for adultery in the Indonesian province of Aceh

Earlier this year footage emerged of a woman collapsing in pain due to the severity of their injuries inflicted during the beatings.

The barbaric punishments, which occurred today in Banda Aceh, are the latest to emerge from the only province in the country to implement the Islamic punishment.

Despite than 90 per cent of the 255million people who live in Indonesia describing themselves as moderate Muslim, the region is allowed to retain brutal sharia punishments as part of a peace deal that ended a three decade insurgency.

A peace agreement signed in 2005 granted special autonomy to Aceh, at the northern tip of Sumatra, on condition that it remained part of the sprawling archipelago.

People are still flogged for a range of offences including gambling, drinking alcohol, gay sex or any sexual relationship outside marriage.

Back in September 2014, Aceh approved an anti-homosexuality law that can punish anyone caught having gay sex with 100 lashes.

Anybody caught engaging in consensual gay sex is punished with 100 lashes, 100 months in jail or a fine of 1,000 grams of gold.

The law also sets out punishment for sex crimes, unmarried people engaging in displays of affection, people caught found guilty of adultery.

People can be caned for something as innocent as standing too close to a partner in public or being seen alone with someone they are not married to.

Indonesia urged to end discriminatory virginity test for female security force applicants

New York based rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to order the chiefs of the National Police and Indonesian Military (TNI) to immediately ban virginity testing for female applicants, saying the practice is a form of gender based violence.

The decades old practice that includes a “two-finger” test to determine whether a female applicant’s hymen is intact was degrading and discriminatory, as well as harming women’s equal access to job opportunities, HRW women’s rights advocacy director Nisha Varia said.

“The Indonesian government’s continuing tolerance for abusive virginity tests by the security forces reflects an appalling lack of political will to protect the rights of Indonesian women,” Varia said in a statement on Wednesday.

“Indonesian women who seek to serve their country by joining the security forces shouldn’t have to subject themselves to an abusive and discriminatory virginity test,” she said.

Despite criticism from human rights campaigners, security forces continue to impose the test, classified as psychological examinations, on the grounds that the virginity test was for “mental health and morality reasons”, senior police and military officers told HRW.

All females who took part in the test told HRW that the experience of having doctors inserting two fingers into their vagina to check the level of vaginal laxity was traumatic, painful and embarrassing.

World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines issued in 2014 stated that virginity testing has no scientific validity. The discriminatory practice has also been internationally recognized as a violation of human rights.

The rights group further urged Jokowi to prohibit virginity tests by the Police and TNI, and establish an independent monitoring mechanism to ensure the two institutions comply.

By ending the practice, the Indonesian government would abide by its international human rights obligations as well as honor the goals of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, which falls on Nov. 25, HRW said.

“The Indonesian police and military cannot effectively protect all Indonesians, women and men, so long as a mindset of discrimination permeates their ranks,” Varia added. (afr/dmr)