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Indonesia’s Religious Minorities Denied Adoption Rights

Laws Restrict Adoptions of Unknown Children to ‘Religion of the Majority’

Students at an Islamic boarding school perform prayers at a mosque on the first day of the holy fasting month of Ramadan in Medan, North Sumatra June 29, 2014.  © 2014 Y.T Haryono / Reuters

Christians and other religious minorities need not apply.

That’s the message conveyed to policewoman Ida Maharani Hutagaol in Binjal, in Indonesia’s North Sumatra province, when she applied to adopt an abandoned infant she had helped take to the hospital in mid-year.

Hutagaol had grown attached to the month-old baby boy, so she did the paperwork to adopt, meeting all requirements for income, mental health, and family background. She also committed to make the boy her heir, inheriting her assets upon her death. Three weeks later, the Ministry of Social Affairs informed her that her adoption application had been rejected. The reason: Hutagaol is a Christian in a majority Sunni Muslim area.

A ministry official informed Hutagaol that she could not adopt the infant because of a 2007 national government regulation on adoption that states, “In cases in which the origin of the child is unknown, then the child’s religion is conformed to the religion of the majority of the local population.” That is based on the 2014 Child Protection Law, which states, “Adoptive parents should have the same religion as the child.” That law effectively bars religious minorities from adopting children who aren’t known to be of the same religion. Retno Listyarti, a commissioner on the official Indonesian Child Protection Commission, said the law provides zero flexibility for adoptions by religious minorities.

The discriminatory restrictions on adoptions is just one of many laws in Indonesia that perpetuate discrimination against religious minorities. They include the house of worship regulation, which requires minorities to get majority approval to construct houses of worship, and the blasphemy law, which punishes deviations from Indonesia’s six officially protected religions with up to five years in prison.

The 1965 blasphemy law has been used to prosecute and imprison members of religious minorities and of traditional religions. The most recent high-profile targets of the blasphemy law include former Jakarta governor Basuki Purnama and three former leaders of the Gafatar religious community, now jailed in Jakarta. Those laws are supported by the principle of “religious harmony,” institutionalized in 2006 by then-President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, which obligates the Sunni majority to “protect” religious minorities and for religious minorities to “respect” the majority.

Members of Indonesia’s religious minorities, including Ida Maharani Hutagaol, will continue to face discrimination until the government revokes these laws. 

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