How big of an age gap is too big in a relationship? Does 55 years cross the line? Well, not for 16-year-old Selamat Riayadi and his bride, a 71-year-old woman known only as Rohaya in their home village of Karang Endah in South Sumatra, Indonesia. The couple recently celebrated their marriage in front of a crowd, despite protests from both their families and the government.
Rohaya is twice widowed, which meant that the couple needed to ask for permission to be wed. As it is tradition, they asked the owner of the home in which they were to be wed, a community leader named Kuswoyo. Kuswoyo granted them permission after the couple reportedly threaten to kill themselves if they were not allowed to wed. He reported to local media that: “They said they wanted to commit suicide because they were completely in love, so if one of them dies, then both must die.”
Though reportedly “completely in love”, the couples motivations to marry have been brought into question. While initially suspected to be an act related to finances, that idea has been disregarded due to the fact that both the groom and the bride are supposedly equally impoverished. Selamat’s family payed a dowry of 200,000 Indonesian Rupiah to his bride’s family, the equivalent of about £11.50. Regardless, one cannot help but question how desired the marriage was, after seeing what their wedding ceremony looked like.
Their love has also been called into question after the release of a video of the moment they were announced man and wife. Selamat puts his head in his hands, his expression indistinguishable, as his wife sits quietly beside him. It’s difficult to tell if Selamat is reveling in the emotion of the joyous occasion, or if he’s weeping to himself. Meanwhile, the attendees of the wedding cheer loudly around them, seemingly in a much more celebratory mood than the couple themselves.
As per the 1974 Marriage Law, the official minimum age at which a boy in Indonesia to get married is 19 (for women it is 16). There is, however, a loophole that allows for marriage within a person’s “religious norms”. Both bride and groom are Muslim, and Islam has no rule on a minimum age for marriage. Permission is, instead, based on the person in question’s perceived “maturity”.
While this loophole means that the marriage is technically not deemed illegal, it has still not been recognized as legitimate by the government. According to The Jakarta Post, Social Affairs Minister Khofifah Indar Parawansa has publicly condemned the marriage.
He said in a statement, “A team from the Social Affairs Ministry checked and found that they held an unofficial wedding, thus they don’t have a marriage deed. It’s not possible for them to marry in a KUA [Religious Affairs Office], because the groom is still underage.” Thus, the marriage is known as a nikah siri marriage: one that is recognized by society but not by the state. We will have to check in on the couple 3 years from now to see if they’ve gotten a state-issued marriage deed.