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Mixed Marriages:

A life full of mixed problems

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Indonesian Harsi Watts is a widow. Her Australian husband died 16 days before she gave birth to their only daughter, who is now two-and-a-half-years old.

With the lost of the family breadwinner, Ai, the name by which Harsi's late husband used to call her, faces endless problems concerning her mixed marriage and her "Australian" daughter.

And these problems mean lots of money and humiliation.

Ai has to produce the legal documents certifying her marriage and the death of her husband each time she gets in touch with either the Indonesian or the Australian government, since she is now the sponsor for her daughter to be allowed to stay in Jakarta.

She paid Rp 3 million (US$332) to get a stay permit for her daughter and hundreds of thousands of rupiah to extend the permit every year. She can barely afford these costs on the money she makes with her home business.

To free herself of these expenses, Ai tried to register her daughter as an Indonesian citizen. "The application was rejected. The officials said my daughter had to be 18 so she could make the decision on her own."

As an Australian, there is no way the girl can enter a school in Indonesia, unless it is one of the expensive international schools

The current Indonesian law on citizenship fails to protect mixed couples, discriminating between marriages between Indonesian men and foreign women, and Indonesian women and foreign men.

Using the ius sanguinis (blood line) principle, Law No. 62/1958 on citizenship -- which is now under revision -- does not allow foreign men married to Indonesian women to change nationality, while any children of the marriage will automatically be given the same citizenship of the father.

The non-Indonesian husband and children will be treated similar to foreign tourists or visitors.

The legal consequences of this law has caused Windya, 27, and her Australian husband of three years to delay having children. The two of them see the issue of nationality as a problem.

"I don't want to change my citizenship. Meanwhile, to most foreigners like my husband, being an Indonesian has no benefits in the eyes of the international community. I, myself, an often treated like I was a criminal," Windya said.

Ai and Windya are just two Indonesian women married to foreign men who gathered on Saturday to urge that the citizenship law be changed. The gathering was held by the Association of Indonesian Women in Multinational Marriages (Srikandi), with support from the Legal Aid Institute-Association of Indonesian Women for Justice (LBH-Apik).

The women exchanged stories and experiences, and in many cases tears.

Srikandi cochair Sri Lienau, told of the difficulties faced by her daughters.

Married to an American man for 26 years, the couple raised their children with a full understanding and appreciation for Indonesian culture. Unfortunately, the children cannot work in the country unless they get a work permit.

Their youngest is studying abroad. She wants to be a city planner so she can help make Indonesian better. She has mastered the West Java classical dance Jaipong, Balinese dances and the traditional Javanese musical instrument the siter.

"But she can only return home to us by using a tourist visa. She realizes that she cannot work here no matter how much she sees herself as an Indonesian. 'I feel hurt,' is what she said to me," Sri said.

One Indonesian woman who lived in the U.S. was arrested by the police on charges of kidnaping when she and her son attempted to escape from her abusive American husband.

Another women keeps silent about the abuse she receives from her foreign husband, because she fears immigration will deport her husband and their three children from Indonesia.

According to the citizenship law, when an Indonesian woman who is married to a foreign man dies, any property in her name cannot be passed to her husband and children. The Indonesian government will instead auction off the property within one year, leaving the mourning family homeless.

In addition, they said many Indonesian wives with foreign husbands were not allowed to enter the civil service, while foreign wives can only work as volunteers or contract employees.

An Indonesian man who lives in the country of his foreign wife is not allowed to change citizenship or to work in that country.

The situation is no better for a foreign wife with an Indonesian husband. If the couple has marital problems, for example, it would be impossible for her to leave the country without the consent of her husband.

If an Indonesian husband and his foreign wife divorce or if the husband dies, there is no way for the wife to extend their her stay permit here, because the husband is her only sponsor.

The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights is currently drafting a bill to amend the 1958 law on citizenship. It has promised to submit the bill soon to the House of Representatives for further deliberation.

Hopes are high the bill will protect mixed nationality couples and their children, returning to women the right to make decisions on their own, including changing the nationalities of their children.

by Tertiani ZB Simanjuntak
The Jakarta Post
September 22, 2002

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