An Islamist party leader has defended child marriages in Indonesia saying it is normal to marry children as young as 11 or 12.

Hilman Rosyad Syihab, deputy leader of the Islamic party Partai Keadilan Sejahtera (PKS), shared his views with Adnkronos International. The comments came after a Muslim cleric provoked public outrage in Indonesia by marrying a 12-year-old girl, and reportedly has plans to marry another two girls aged nine and seven.

Pujianto Cahyo Widianto married the girl in the central Java city of Semarang, during an unofficial religious ceremony.

Widianto, used Islam’s Prophet Mohammed’s marriage to a seven year-old, Aisha, in the 7th century A.D. to justify his actions.

He reportedly chose her from a pool of 20 girls, and gained her parents’ approval before flying to Singapore with his new bride. He also .

“Many parents give their children for marriage when they reach 11 or 12 years of age,” Hilman told AKI. “It is a normal practice even if it is in decline.”

“If there is no conflict in the family, we should respect it and give them the opportunity to become a harmonious family.”

The religious cleric and the young girl married in the Islamic ceremony of ‘nikah siri’, a rite that is not recognised by the state.

According to the Indonesian government, a woman can marry from the age of 16 and a man when he reaches the age of 19. The age of sexual consent is 16 years.

“But what the law does is suggest an age, it is not an obligation, ” Hilman said.

Hilman, a member of parliament, is aligned with a party that is leading a moral crusade to pass an anti-pornography law considered draconian by many analysts.

He said he did not see any religious issue with wanting to marry another two children, even if they were younger.

“It is okay as long as the parents agree and there are no sexual relations before the children begins menstruating,” he said.

Komnas Anak, the commission for the protection of children, has said that the religious leader – whose first 26-year-old wife reportedly agreed to the marriage – and the parents of the child bride should be charged by the authorities.

Source: China Confidential 03 November 2008