JAKARTA, Indonesia – Indonesia's vice president said he saw nothing wrong with Arab men paying local women to marry and then divorcing them days later, and he suggested the practice — dismissed by critics as legalized prostitution — could boost tourism.
Vice President Jusuf Kalla made the off-the-cuff remarks Wednesday at a travel industry seminar on how to attract more Arab visitors to Indonesia. It was not clear whether he meant the comments as a joke, although they drew laughter in the audience.
Kalla said that many Arab tourists currently traveled to the hill town of Puncak near Jakarta to enter into short-term marriage contracts with Indonesian women.
"We need different kinds of marketing campaigns, more targeted. At the moment most Arabs go to Puncak. If they go there looking for widows or divorcees that is not our business, it is not a problem," he said at the conference.
"So what if the man goes home, the lady gets a small house, that is good isn't it?"
Women activists say the weddings, which are not recognized by the state but are blessed by Islamic clerics for a fee, they are a form of legalized prostitution and encourage poor families to sell their daughters for sex.
Media reports say the practice is common throughout Indonesia, and that most of the grooms are local.
Puncak is notorious for prostitution, and signs in Arabic at several restaurants and hotels testify to the area's popularity with Arab visitors.
But it was unclear on what Kalla was basing his assertion that Arab men were especially involved in short-term marriages.