Outcry over Indonesia minister's remark urging rich to marry poor

JAKARTA (The Straits Times/ANN) - The minister yesterday clarified that his statement on the cross-economy class marriage was meant to be a suggestion, and was not mandatory.

A senior Indonesian minister has caused an uproar in saying that the country's rich must marry the poor to help reduce poverty.

Coordinating Human Development and Culture Minister Muhadjir Effendy said Islamic teachings urging Muslims to select spouses who are well matched had often been misinterpreted to mean matched in terms of equal economic standing.

"If a groom of a poor family marries a bride of another poor family, we would create a new poor family," he said.

He regretted the fact that, in Indonesia, parents would be embarrassed if their child were to marry a person from a poor family. "This mindset must change. They should instead be proud because it is noble as it eradicates poverty."

Indonesia's poverty rate stands at 9.4 per cent of the total 57,116,000 households, or around five million households, Mr Muhadjir said, citing government data as of last September. Indonesia is the world's fourth most populous country, with 260 million people.

Three out of 10 Indonesian women today deliver babies who will suffer from stunting, a condition that makes them less likely to achieve their full physical height and cognitive potential when they are adults. Many of them come from poor families, said Mr Muhadjir.

The minister yesterday clarified that his statement on the cross-economy class marriage was meant to be a suggestion, and was not mandatory.

At a conference a day before, Mr Muhadjir was quoted as suggesting that his colleague, Religious Affairs Minister Fachrul Razi, issue an edict saying that "the poor are required to find the rich to marry with and the rich should find the poor".

Mr Muhadjir told reporters yesterday that the government would offer a premarital programme to help couples who are not economically ready. He cited official statistics that Indonesia typically has 2.5 million marriages a year, and 10 per cent of them would potentially become poor families.

"If the couples do not have any job, we would give them training. If they are into business, we would provide a small loan. If they have skills, they need to be given opportunity," Mr Muhadjir said.

Mr Muhadjir, 63, holds a bachelor's degree in teaching, a master's degree in public policy and a PhD in social studies. He was education minister between 2016 and last year.

He has previously made other controversial remarks such as telling teachers in Indonesia who feel they earn little not to worry as they would go to heaven.

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