Sat, 10 Jul 2004

Non-discriminatory civil registration demanded

M. Taufiqurrahman Jakarta

An activist with a non-governmental organization campaigning against discrimination recently told a discussion that 126 poor Chinese-Indonesian families in Tegal Alur, West Jakarta, could not apply for birth certificates for their children as they could not produce the required Indonesian Citizenship Certificates (SBKRI).

She said the families were too poor to obtain the certificates.

Also speaking in the discussion, an official with the Ministry of Home Affairs said around 5,000 couples of different religions had to go to Singapore to formalize their marriages as Indonesia's civil registration regime does not recognize mixed marriages.

These cases portray the adverse impacts of the flawed system of civil registration, which, he claimed, was the legacy of the Dutch colonial administration.

The civil registration system collects data concerning births, deaths, marriages and divorces, and other aspects of the civil status of individuals.

Currently, there are 15 laws and government regulations on civil registration which date back to the colonial era, when citizens were grouped according to religious belief, race and other social categories.

"Law No. 1/1974 on marriage, for instance, only recognizes five religions, and wedlock of those who don't adhere to these religious beliefs are not entitled to be registered with the civil registration office," the chairman of Anti-Discrimination Struggle Movement (Gandi), Wahyu Effendi, said.

The discriminatory system is also aggravated by the absence of a single institution that deals with civil registration.

Joko Moersito, deputy chairman of the Civil Registration Consortium, an institution consisting of government representatives and local and international NGOs involved in drafting a bill on civil registration, said that currently there were ministries concerned with the civil registration system. They are the Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Religious Affairs, Ministry of Social Affairs and Ministry of Justice and Human Rights.

Indonesia is among 19 countries in the world with the lowest coverage of birth registration. Only 40 percent of Indonesian children aged under five are officially registered. The figures are lower for registered marriages and divorces.

To reform the civil registration system, the consortium has drawn up a bill on civil registration which will ensure that all important statistics of citizens are recorded, regardless of their backgrounds.

The consortium is now trying to persuade the House home affairs commission to adopt the draft as a House initiative and discuss it with the government during the next legislative session.

The bill seeks to eradicate discriminatory practices as stipulated in Article 11, which requires civil registration officials to treat all citizens equally.

The draft defines marriage as "a union of a man and woman under one God".

"Endorsement of the bill will move the country one step closer to eradicating structural discrimination against its citizens," Wahyu said.

Minister of Justice and Human Rights Yusril Ihza Mahendra said recently that bureaucrats at the lower levels continued to ask Chinese-Indonesians to produce SBKRI due to their lack of knowledge of the law.

Yusril said the ministry had not intensively promoted the government policy to the effect that Chinese-Indonesians were no longer required to present the SBKRI to apply for an identity card or passport.

"If they ask you, you have to tell them you don't need to present an SBKRI as your grandfather already has it. Just show them your birth certificate," he said.

He said the SBKRI was only required by foreign nationals who wished to acquire Indonesian citizenship for the first time.