May 28, 2024 Last Updated 8:34 AM, May 27, 2024

Not just a piece of paper

Not just a piece of paper

The state’s requirements for marriage registration disadvantage poor rural women

Maria Platt

      No need for ID: most women in rural Lombok have few interactions with officialdom
      Maria Platt

Una sits in a small room at the back of one of my friends’ houses in the small village of Teduk in western Lombok. Poverty is endemic in Teduk, as in many parts of Lombok, and consequently many women like Una work odd jobs, earning about Rp10,000 (approximately $A1.30) a day to help make ends meet. While we chat over tea and snacks Una’s youngest child is sprawled across her lap.

I discover that Una has three other children from her first marriage, which ended about five years ago. When her marriage ended her husband decided that he would take the three oldest children, while Una would care for her daughter, who was still being breast fed at the time. Even though Una still sees her children from time to time, as they still live in Teduk, she misses them terribly. Una told me that along with their three oldest children, her husband also took most of the household possessions, leaving her no option but to return home to her parents’ house with little other than her youngest child.

The power of registration

With no marriage certificate, Una had little legal traction should she have wished to take her case to the religious courts, which deal with family law matters in Indonesia. While she could have applied for an isbath nikah (akin to a retrospective marriage certificate), this is costly exercise. At Rp256,000 (approximately $A34), plus the expense of a 50 kilometre round trip, this option is out of the question for a woman like Una.

Through the religious courts women have the opportunity to initiate divorce and to deal with issues such as child custody and the division of marital assets in an equitable manner. If Una had had access to the religious courts she might have been able to obtain joint custody of her other children and receive half of the assets she and her husband had acquired during their marriage.

Women like Una who don’t have their marriages registered also lack access to formal legal rights

For women like Una who do not have access to formal state law, decisions about divorce are mostly made by their husbands. In the rare instance that a woman challenges her former husband’s decision, or is brave enough to initiate divorce herself, she can approach village authorities such as the kepala dusun (hamlet head) or Tuan Guru (local Islamic leader) for assistance. Yet leaders base their advice upon local interpretations of Islam and adat, which in Lombok tend to be patriarchal in nature. So in these informal settings women’s chances of securing their marital rights are diminished. Consequently, women like Una who don’t have their marriages registered also lack access to a range of formal legal rights.

Una’s story is not unique in Lombok, where levels of marriage registration are low. It has been estimated that around 70 per cent of marriages in Lombok do not get registered. There are various reasons for this, including the highly bureaucratised nature of the process and its cost. The amount charged for a marriage certificate can be arbitrary - ranging anywhere from Rp150,000 to 600,000 (approximately $A20-80). A friend of mine who was married recently told me of how she was charged Rp600,000 for her marriage certificate. As a primary school teacher she earns only Rp200,000 (about $A26) per month and her husband earns a similar wage. As a result they are still paying off their marriage certificate and won’t receive it until they have paid in full. Therefore for people dwelling in rural Lombok, many of whom earn less than $A2 a day, even affording a marriage certificate is almost unimaginable, especially given that the extensive marriage celebrations required by adat may deplete a family’s entire savings.

Bureaucratic obstacles

Yet another major barrier for those wishing to register their marriage is the bureaucratic requirements of the state. There are two agencies that deal with marriage registrations - the Kantor Urusan Agama (KUA or Office for Religious Affairs), which handles Muslim marriage registration, and the Kantor Catatan Sipil (KCS or Civil Registration Office) for non-Muslims.

For Muslims, who make up the majority of Lombok’s inhabitants, the KUA requires one of two forms of documentation in order to register a marriage. The first, and the preferred form, is an ijazah (graduation certificate), while the other is a Kartu Tanda Penduduk (KTP or official identity card).

In Lombok, which is located in one of Indonesia’s poorest provinces, many people have had little access to formal education until recently. This means that people who are currently of marriageable age (in their late teens and early twenties) may have never been to school or progressed only to mid-primary school level. In such circumstances it is rare for someone to have a graduation certificate.

While a graduation certificate is the preferred form of identification, as it is thought to reflect most accurately a person’s name and date of birth, a KTP is also acceptable. However, not all people in rural Lombok have a KTP. The people who own a KTP are usually those engaged in formal employment or who regularly go outside their village for business, and who therefore need a KTP as a form of official identification. In Lombok, the majority of such people are men. Women tend to work in jobs that do not require travel outside the village, like petty trading or casual labour such as cutting grass for livestock feed or working in the fields. Women in these situations have almost no need for a KTP. What’s more, a KTP costs around Rp25,000 (approximately $A3.30), payable every five years - another unwanted additional cost to bear in already cash-strapped households.

Many rural residents of Lombok lack access to a formal legal identity, and so are also shut out of formal processes of marriage and divorce

The registration process also requires that both the bride and groom provide a passport size photo, which will appear in their respective marriage books. For many people living in small villages, merely obtaining the photo can be a costly exercise as it requires a return trip to the nearest photographic store, which could be a considerable distance away. Furthermore the cost of around Rp8,000 (approximately $A1) per person for a set of passport photos may be equivalent to nearly a day’s wage for people in a rural setting.

In short, the state process expects that people have a formal legal identity, which can be costly to obtain. The reality for many rural residents of Lombok, therefore, is that they lack access to a formal legal identity, and so are also shut out of formal processes of marriage and divorce.

An Indonesia-wide problem

Access to the courts for family matters is not limited to Lombok: it has been estimated that 80 per cent of Indonesians are not able to engage with the legal system, largely owing to financial constraints. A joint project conducted recently by the Indonesian religious courts and the Australian family court indicates that poverty is a major barrier for people wishing to access the religious courts, especially single mothers.

Non-registration of marriage has implications not only for the couple (especially the woman), should the marriage end in divorce. Parents need to show a marriage certificate to obtain an official birth certificate for children of the marriage. This has follow-on effects for children in terms of establishing their legal identity and their access to education, because a birth certificate is also officially required to enrol a child in school. This official requirement can be problematic for some families, even though many children without birth certificates still manage to attend school.

The afternoon is getting late, and Una has to return home to her parents’ house where she still lives, to prepare the evening meal. During our conversation Una has told me that she is getting married in two days time to a new husband who is a local of her village but now works in the neighbouring island of Sumbawa. Despite her problems with her first husband it is unlikely that Una’s second marriage will be registered either, largely because of the mismatch between the bureaucratic requirements of the state and the lives of rural women such as Una. Women like Una, whose marital rights are not guaranteed, can only hope for the best in their marriages.     ii

Maria Platt ( is a PhD student at the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society at La Trobe University.

Inside Indonesia 97: Jul-Sep 2009

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