Sunday, September 25, 2005
Hera Diani and Tiarma Siboro, The Jakarta Post/Jakarta
Marrying foreigners may mean more love and happiness for many, financial security for others, in addition to the prospect of having beautiful children of mixed blood who someday may become models or actors.
The reality is, while happiness and love exist in many long-lasting mixed marriages, security is lost the moment an Indonesian woman marries a man of another nationality.
Based on Law No. 62/1958 on citizenship, an Indonesian woman cannot act as a sponsor for the visas of her expatriate husband and their children, and thus if the husband cannot work here, he cannot stay either, thus preventing the family from living a normal life.
An Indonesian wife cannot claim her children if a divorce takes place as children of a mixed marriage automatically adopt the father’s citizenship.
Sukaedah Kumaidi Better, 34, said that she lives in constant fear that she is going to lose her children or her French husband over the citizenship issue.
“Nobody wants a divorce. But even without divorce, my husband has to leave once his contract is over… my children have to leave once they are 18 years old,” she said.
For the past eight years, Sukaedah’s family has had to go back and forth to Singapore to renew her husband’s and children’s visa, which she said is time consuming and costly.
“I am not asking for citizenship for my husband, but at least the government could cut us some slack so that he and my children do not have to renew their visa every few months.”
Dewi Tjakrawinata, an executive of an alliance that groups about 4,000 couples in mixed marriages here, said that the citizenship law basically denies mixed couples and their children the opportunity to live as a “complete family”.
Married to a French man, she said she could not sponsor his husband to stay even though she has a career and her own money.
“To keep their children from becoming expatriates, many Indonesian women don’t even bother to register their marriages. The children’s birth certificate then says that they were born out of wedlock, and thus they automatically gain their mother’s citizenship,” said Dewi.
However, it then creates another problem as the child is stigmatized for being born out of wedlock.
A wife of an expatriate cannot bequeath her wealth to her children either if she dies, while the children only have a year to sell the property of the mother.
An expatriate woman, repeating an immigration officer, said that the government would hunt down the children of expatriate fathers and expel them once they were 18; barely an adult.
Dewi said that the state tends to blame people for marrying expatriates.
“This is an era of globalization where encounters between citizens of different countries are inevitable,” she said.
“The expatriates and their children should be seen as a state asset.”
There is no record of the number of mixed marriages in the country. In Jakarta alone, however, there are at least 300 new mixed marriages registered annually — not to mention those who do not register their marriages.
Problems also occur in small towns or border towns, where many women undergo contractual marriages. As most of them are less educated, many do not know about the law. But once the marriage contract is over, their children face deportation, while many of the fathers refuse to recognize them.
Even in other countries that do not recognize dual citizenship, there are special regulations for children of mixed couples.
She underlined that dual citizenship did not mean a person’s nationalism faded.
“I could just adopt French citizenship, like my husband’s, but I don’t want to simply because I refuse to let go — even if it’s just administrative — of my Indonesian roots. And I want my children to be the same way,” she said.
Another story that has been told is that some Indonesian women were left penniless when their foreign husband died suddenly.
Still, the women were expected to get visas in Singapore for their children and send them to an international school, which is very expensive, during the lengthy process to make their children Indonesian citizens.
News that the House of Representatives is currently reviewing the law has given new hope for mixed marriages, but a women’s rights activist and legislator from the National Awakening Party (PKB), Nursyahbani Katjasungkana, has expressed concern that deliberation of the revision would not be completed “in just one day”.
“Well, actually, the legislators’ plan to review the bill has been in process for years, but the goodwill to really correct the bill has just come to their minds in the past year.
“Aimed at encouraging my fellow legislators to revise the Law, I shared ideas about problems which have been raised due to this discriminative and gender-biased law in June of this year. My fellow legislators agreed to speed up the deliberation of the draft revision, but I wonder why the bill is not among 55 pieces of legislation that should be finalized by this year,” Nursyahbani told the Post.
Maggie Agusta, 56, said that the government was not even transparent about the law, as she would have gotten the citizenship if she had known about it.
“The law is fairly clear; there is lack of transparency.”
Now, even after living here for over two decades, she has encountered trouble in getting Indonesian citizenship, as there was a period when she had to go back to the United States due to health problems.
“You have expatriate women and men.. many are very educated and have expertise. They may be better off in their own country. But we have commitment and expertise and are willing to contribute.
“I’m nearly 60 years old, I had grown up a lot in Indonesia. It changed me profoundly. I don’t fit anywhere else in the world. This is my home,” Agusta said.