Like Romeo and Juliet, two star-crossed lovers in Indonesia apparently could not bear to live without being together. But unlike Shakespeare’s tragic teenage couple from Verona, the two newlyweds from Karangendah Village in Ogan Komering Ulu, South Sumatra, consist of a 16-year-old boy, Selamat Riayadi, and a 71-year-old woman, Rohaya, who threatened to kill themselves if their families did not consent to their unlikely union.
Selamet and Rohaya were married on Sunday at the home of their local neighborhood leader (RT) Kuswoyo. Photos and video of the wedding ceremony quickly spread on Indonesian social media with many questioning whether the news was true or not.
Speaking to local news outlet Detik over the phone, Kuswoyo confirmed that the marriage was indeed real, as was the couple’s threat to commit suicide if their families had not allowed them to wed.
The neighborhood head said the two had announced their intentions to him before Ramadan but were not given permission Rohaya’s family (the 71-year-old had already been married and widowed twice before). Two days later they returned seeking some sort of solution to their problem and since that if none could be found they were desperate enough to end their lives.
“They said they wanted to commit suicide because they were completely in love, so if one of them dies, then both must die,” Kuswoyo said as quoted by Detik.
Kuswoyo said that Rohaya’s family was reluctant to give their permission due to the couple’s 55-year age gap, which would obviously make their wedding extremely controversial. But seeing how serious they were about the suicide threat, the 71-year-old’s brother reluctantly agreed to give his blessing to the ceremony.
According to Kuswoyo, there were no “economic factors” that led to the couple’s decision to marry as both were equally economically disadvantaged. Selamet gave Rohaya’s family a dowry payment consisting of Rp 200,000 ($15) in cash.
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The official minimum age of marriage in Indonesia is 16 for girls and 19 for boys, as stated in Law no. 1/1974 on Marriage. However, there is also what is known as nikah siri, which is a type of marriage that follows religious norms but is not recognized by the state. This creates a loophole that allows child marriage to still be widely practiced in Indonesia because, in Islam, there is no set minimum age for marriage (in its place are subjective gauges on whether a boy or a girl has reached “maturity”, such as having gone through puberty).
Nikah siri continues to happen throughout Indonesia because, in the very same law that sets the minimum age for marriage, there is a contradictory clause that says, “A marriage is recognized if done according to the laws of their religion and beliefs.” This protects nikah siri from being seen as a violation of the law, whereas without which it could be construed as statutory rape if the marriage involves underage individuals.
Although marriages between older men and much younger women are hardly unusual in Indonesia, the opposite is extremely rare. In February, the wedding of a 28-year-old man and an 82-year-old woman also made headlines in Indonesia and around the world.