JAKARTA, Indonesia – A Muslim cleric whose marriage to a 12-year-old girl triggered controversy in Indonesia has been detained along with the girl's father on suspicion of violating the child protection law, police said Wednesday.
Cleric Pujiono Cahyo Widianto, 43, wed the girl before thousands of people in Central Java province last August, arguing that he had committed no crime because he intended to wait until she reached puberty before consummating their relationship.
Police Detective Roy Siahaan said the cleric, who runs an Islamic boarding school and several businesses, was officially named a criminal suspect Tuesday following several days of questioning. He has not been charged but is in police detention.
On Wednesday, the girl's father, 36-year-old Suroso, also was detained and named a suspect for giving away the bride. Both Suroso, who like many Indonesians uses only one name, and Widianto could face up to 15 years in prison if found guilty of violating the country's child protection law, which forbids marriage to anyone under 18 years old.
The cleric's wedding and proclamations that he intended to also marry two other girls aged 7 and 9 angered many in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation with more than 210 million believers. Complaints came from Religious Affairs Minister Maftuh Basuni, child rights groups and the Indonesia Ulemma Council — the country's top Islamic body.
"This is pedophilia ... pure and simple," said Arist Merdeka Sirait, secretary general of the National Commission for Children's Rights, who praised the police action. "We aren't living in the Stone Age here, we have to protect our children against these kinds of things."
Police returned Widianto's young wife to her parents' care not long after the marriage ceremony.