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October 26, 2009

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Polygamy matchmaker targets Indonesia

PLANS to open branches of a Malaysian "Polygamy Club" in Indonesia have upset women's groups and religious leaders in the world's most populous Muslim nation, who say the search for multiple wives should be handled privately - not by a matchmaking service.

Under Islamic law, Muslim men are permitted four wives. The club claims a noble aim of helping single mothers, reformed prostitutes and women who feel they are past marrying age meet spouses. It also offers counseling to people facing problems in polygamous households.

The Malaysian owners say they want to "change people's perception about polygamy, so that they will see it as a beautiful rather than abhorrent practice," club Chairwoman Hatijah Binti Am said as members from around 30 families attended a gathering in Bandung, west Java, for the opening of the first Indonesian branch last week.

Others will soon be added, including in the capital Jakarta, said spokeswoman Rohaya Mohamad.

Polygamous relationships are believed to be gaining in popularity in secular Indonesia, but it's impossible to say how many there are because the marriages are performed secretly at mosques and are not recorded by the state.

Indonesia's 1974 Marriage Law permits a man to have a second wife if his first is an invalid, infertile or terminally ill. However, there is no way to monitor adherence to the rules.

Polygamists point out that the Prophet Muhammad is thought to have married about a dozen women in his lifetime, including widows in need of protection.

But a prominent member of the influential Indonesian Ullema Council, a board of Muslim priests, described the launching of a formal club as a "provocative campaign."

"Such a club is needless," said Ma'ruf Amin. "It will draw (negative) reactions rather than solve problems" because the practice is generally opposed by women in the country of 235 million people.

Several prominent political and religious figures in Indonesia openly married second wives in recent years, sparking widespread debate and calls to ban civil servants from polygamy.

Yohanna, a member of the Institute for Indonesian Women's Association for Justice, said the club effectively promotes abuse.

"While we are campaigning against domestic violence, which includes polygamy, there is a group campaigning that polygamy - which hurts other women - is a positive thing," Yohanna told MetroTV.


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