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Angel in Trouble

Just a sample of what can go wrong if you don't know the laws of Indonesia regarding your children's legal status...

Movie Star Ayu Azhari is under investigation by the Department of imigration for producing a false birth certificate of her son. Is she just a victim of the paternalistic system of law?

This time Ayu Azhari apparently couldn't play her role as beautifully as she did in the TV series Bidadari (Angel). The famous artist couldn't bring the immigration officials who refused to extend her son's passport, under her spell. Her son, Sulaeman Atiq Ibrahim, is three years old. Last Tuesday, she was even investigated for two hours by immigration officials, because her son's birth certificate was allegedly forged.

The problem, which makes Ayu frown, started when she tried to have Sulaeman's passport extended. Her sweetheart was born on June 3, 1998 from her marriage to a Finnish citizen. Ayu, whose original name was Khadijah, married Ibrahim- her husband's Muslim name - in Jakarta on September 18, 1994. She intended to take Sulaeman along with her to visit his father, who is on military service in his country.

It turned out, that her popularity didn't make her efforts in extending the passport easier. It even made the process more complicated for her. According to head of the South Jakarta Immigration Office, M. Husin Alaydrus, Sulaeman is actually not an Indonesian citizen. Therefore, he cannot have an Indonesian passport. It is because of the 1958 Law on Citizenship, the citizenship of a child born from a marriage between an Indonesian woman and a foreigner should be that of the father. On this basis, Husin refused to extend Ayu's fourth child's passport.

Ayu came there twice. Still Husin didn't change is mind. She felt so bad about it, that she was said to have scolded him and threatened to have him removed from their office. But when TEMPO contacted her, she denied that she could have been rude. "How could I dare make threats like that," she said.

It turned out that later on, Ayu's case has been transferred to the central immigration office. This time now, Sulaeman's birth certificate accompanying the documents needed for the passport extension, is allegedly false. After verification with the South Jakarta Civil Registration Office, it turned out that the number of the birth certificate shown by Ayu, was not in the name of Sulaeman, but of Andika Alfie Damara.

Ayu maintained that she didn't know of a similar certificate in the name of another child. "I don't know, that there are two certificates. My child's certificate is in Sulaeman's name, not in any other name," she said.

She was also sure, that her son had Indonesian citizenship, because her marriage with Ibrahim was legal and registered with the South Jakarta Civil Registration Office. Also, Sulaeman was born in Jakarta. Therefore she applied for her son's passport extension in South Jakarta. She admitted that it was service bureau that handled the obtainment of her son's birth certificate and passport.

If the certificate is actually false, then under the 1992 Immigration Law, Ayu should be considered as having given false information when she applied for the passport. She could face a two-year jail sentence or a fine of Rp 10 million.

But, the Immigration Director of Supervision & Action, Indra has taken a careful stance in handling Ayu's case. "She feels, that she has completed all the required data. If the civil registration office considers the certificate false, then she might have been the victim of a broker," said Indra, who heard that Ayu had obtained the birth certificate through a broker.

Whatever the further development of the false certificate maybe, it's certain that the marriage between Ayu and Ibrahim was legal and registered in compliance with Indonesian marital law, so Sulaeman's citizenship should be that of his father's. But, if the marriage has been recognized by Indonesian law, Sulaeman is considered a child born out of wedlock, hence he should have his mother's citizenship. In this condition there's no problem and Sulaeman can have an Indonesian birth certificate.

The problem would be different, if Sulaeman must have Finnish citizenship. This serious problem always befalls an Indonesian woman, who marries a foreigner. Infants born from mixed (different races) marriages, like Atiq in Jakarta, Andrea in Surabaya and Samantha in Bandung, have been deported to their fathers' countries.

The root of the problem is the 1958 Law on Citizenship, which had a paternalist character (in which the legal line of the father dominates). There should be, according to Nursjahbani Katjasungkawa, a principle of equal rights between rights between a mother and a father in deciding the child's citizenship. An agreement between husband and wife on their child's citizenship could be legalized by a court. Too bad, an amendment plan on the Citizenship Law, which contains a reform of this principle, has for four years not been proposed by the House of Representatives (DPR).

Originally published in Tempo's English edition August 28 - September 2001.