The Indonesian province of Aceh — the only region given special autonomy to enact its own sharia-based laws — is attempting to further normalize polygamous marriages by passing a special bylaw.
According to reports, Aceh’s provincial government and regional council (DPR Aceh) are drawing up a qanun (Islamic penal code bylaw) regulating household affairs. One section of the bill, which would provide legal ground for and regulate the practice of polygamy, has become the subject of controversy nationwide.
Indonesia does not specifically allow polygamy, as national law legally defines marriage as the union between two adults of the opposite sex, but there exists a loophole in the law that takes into consideration religious and/or cultural norms for marriage, allowing for a large number of polygamous marriages (and, often, child marriages) to occur.
The Aceh government and lawmakers appear to want to give more legal standing to polygamous marriages with the household affairs qanun bill, arguing that doing so would give more legal protection to women in those marriages.
“In Islamic law, the Quran states that a man can marry up to four women. We will limit it to four. If he wants a fifth, he has to divorce one,” DPR Aceh Deputy Speaker Musannif told reporters on Saturday, as quoted by Detik.
The lawmaker went on to say that the qanun could prevent women from entering polygamous marriages in the form of nikah siri (marriages that fulfill religious requirements but are not legally recognized).
“With the prevalence of nikah siri, accountability to God and children from that marriage becomes weak. So we agreed to regulate [polygamy], because even if we didn’t they’d end up doing it anyway,” he said.
The qanun bill has come under criticism mainly for a clause allowing men to marry additional wives without the consent of their first wife under certain circumstances, such as the first wife suffering from an incurable illness, becoming crippled, or being unable to bear children. In Islam, it’s generally accepted that men are only allowed to wed another woman with the explicit consent of their existing wife or wives.
“It’s worrying, it’s such a patriarchal form of expression. They’re only putting forward their libidos and not treating women with respect,” Adriana Venny, the head of the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan), told reporters yesterday, as quoted by Detik.
“Well, only one gender benefits from this. It’s so that men can fulfill their desires to be with more than one woman. Tell me, can women be polyandrous?”
The qanun bill was first tabled for discussion at DPR Aceh in late 2018 and it’s set for further discussions at a plenary session in August, but it seems there’s still some way to go before it is passed. The Religious Affairs Ministry and the Home Affairs Ministry say they are monitoring the bill’s progress, and even the Ulema Consultative Assembly of Aceh (MPU Aceh) — the highest clerical body in the region — say a better definition of polygamy is still needed in the bill.