Sun, 05 Nov 2000

Legally yours: Legal aspects of marrying 'out'

JAKARTA (JP): Andrini Movita was overjoyed when she married her French fiance here last June.

The couple flew to her husband's hometown in St. Hillaire, Limoges. It was not only for a honeymoon but, more importantly, to formally register their marriage.

"In Jakarta, we had registered our marriage at the KUA (Islamic Marriage Register Office), but I don't know about the benefits. Do you think that I am adequately protected by Indonesian law?" the executive secretary at an Indonesian-British joint venture said.

"If something happens and he abandons me, what could I do? Where should I lodge my complaint?"

Like many Indonesians who have married foreigners, Movita is uneasy about the protection afforded by Indonesian marriage laws and regulations.

Lawyer and women's activist Nursyahbani Kantjasungkana acknowledged that laws and regulations on marriage and citizenship were an intricate web.

"I don't know how to explain but they are really... really complicated and confusing, even to lawyers and legal officers like myself, let alone the layman."

Cross-cultural marriages bear legal consequences which include marriage registration, citizenship for both spouses and their children, child custody, inheritance, tax and immigration problems, said Nursyahbani, chairwoman of the Indonesian Women's Coalition.

"The problem is only a few Indonesians marrying foreigners are aware of these existing regulations."

In the existing marriage law, there are no specific regulations on cross-cultural marriage.

Under the Indonesian law, any marriage is legal if it is carried out under the authority of a religious affairs office -- be it KUA or churches. The state (in this case, the civil registration office) only registers their marriage but does not authorize it.

"Couples with different religions would face difficulties in getting married under this law," she said, adding that many of them prefer to get married in foreign countries.

Problems of citizenship and child custody could also be a giant headache for cross-cultural couples.

Under the 1958 law on naturalization, foreign male nationals can start the naturalization process after five years of continuous residence, or 10 years of noncontinuous residence. However, they first must have a limited stay work permit (KITAS) for five years in one company, in an executive position, before they can obtain the required permanent residence (KITAP).

Children of such marriages automatically adopt their father's nationality.

A foreign woman who marries an Indonesian man could attain Indonesian citizenship, if she wishes, after a year. Their offspring will have Indonesian citizenship or their mother's nationality if she applies for foreign citizenship for her children.

Foreign men with Indonesian spouses must undergo the lengthy naturalization process.

Selective policy

Director general of immigration M. Mudakir and other immigration officials contend the policy is in line with the government's view of the husband as the breadwinner of the family.

"Technically, a foreigner who comes to Indonesia to reside must have a sponsor, and a wife cannot be the sponsor. However, a husband can because he is the head of the family," Mudakir said.

He termed it a "selective policy" in ensuring that foreign male heads of households were contributing to the country's development.

"If a foreign woman comes here as a wife (of an Indonesian), then her presence is governed by the law on citizenship, but if she is not here as a wife but as a worker, then she comes under immigration regulations," said the head of the unit for screening of citizenship and nationality, Harsono Widodo.

"As a country which is not (a destination) for immigration, we have to be very selective. We already have 202 million people who need to be taken care of. Imagine, your home is already full of unemployed people, and then more with no jobs arrive from outside."

With the government's definition of the man as the head of family (despite the fact that millions of Indonesian women support their households alone) it is up to foreign men to find a work sponsor.

"The people we want here are those who will work, who will invest and contribute to the country," Mudakir said. "We are not like the Netherlands, where even the unemployed receive assistance. Obviously we cannot do that."

Nursyahbani and other Indonesian lawyers consider the laws sexist and discriminatory, showing the New Order's patriarchal view of gender.

She said laws were contradictory, such as the citizenship law, No. 62/1958, which contradicts Law No.7/l984 on the Ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discriminations Against Women. She contended it violates children's rights although Indonesia also ratified the UN Convention on Children's Rights.

"Many problems of conflicting laws appear in cross-cultural marriages when they divorce," she said.

Under the law on custody, the divorced mother is the custodian of under-age children. But if their father is a foreigner, the children automatically adopt the father's nationality.

The immigration office will deport the children unless the mother renews their permits to stay in Indonesia once in two years -- and they must be processed in a foreign country.

Nursyahbani said that the present laws concerning cross- cultural marriages must be altered for changing times.

"The existing laws are very inhumane and costly. Can you imagine how much money a mother must spend to renew a permit for her 'foreign' children."

Nursyahbani advised cross-cultural couples to use a safeguard.

"To protect women and children, they must prepare prenuptial agreements authorized by Indonesian law and the respective foreign authorities."

She also advised people planning to marry foreigners to learn all about regulations to prevent any possible legal problems. She recommended they seek legal counsel in the event of problems.

Movita, like many others, is not interested in studying laws -- she wants practical solutions.

She said she would move to France when her husband's work contract ended in Indonesia. She said she would consider applying for French residency and, eventually, French citizenship.

"It's not that I'm not nationalistic, but I will decide what's best for us, in a practical way." (brc/sim/raw)