A poster for the controversial soap opera 'Wife's Heart' in Indonesia. (Photo: YouTube)
A television soap opera has sparked protests in Indonesia, including from Catholics, over a storyline which critics say promotes child marriage and polygamy.
The storyline in the soap called Wife’s Heart, broadcast by private television station Indosiar, involves a man in his late thirties manipulating a high school student, played by a 15-year-old actress, into becoming his third wife.
In the show, she plays the eldest daughter of a sick father who is forced to marry at 17 because she has to pay off his debt.
Activists from the Coalition of Civil Society Against Sexual Violence accused the producers and TV station of supporting, perpetuating and even trying to profit from child marriage and polygamy when the country should be looking at ways to eliminate such practices.
They said the storyline could exacerbate child marriage, where cases rose sharply from 23,126 in 2019 to 64,211 in 2020 despite it being illegal under Indonesian law.
Indonesia only allows marriage for men and women aged 19 or over, while the child protection law stipulates a child becomes an adult at 18.
Yes, polygamy is allowed in some religions, but does that justify marrying an underage woman?
Polygamy, although allowed in some religions, continues to be opposed by women’s groups.
“This soap opera is giving a false impression to audiences. Yes, polygamy is allowed in some religions, but does that justify marrying an underage woman? This is not so much about whether having a third wife is proper, but it's whether asking a 15-years-old actress to take the role is morally acceptable,” the coalition said in a statement.
It has also launched an online petition calling for the soap opera to be taken off air. It had collected more than 64,000 signatures by June 4.
Retno Listyarti, from the Indonesian Child Protection Commission, was also critical of the soap opera, telling UCA News that the commission was reviewing it along with the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission, the Film Censorship Institute, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology and the Ministry of Women's Empowerment and Child Protection.
In response to the protests, Indosiar and the producers, Mega Kreasi Film, decided on June 3 to replace the actress with a 23-year-old artist.
However, this has not stopped the protests, including from the chairman of the National Commission on Violence Against Women, Andy Yentriyani, who called for the soap opera to be axed.
Franciscan Father Vinsensius Darmin Mbula, chairman of the National Council for Catholic Education, said such content on television will only damage the minds of teenagers and children.
“It is time for broadcasters to improve the quality of their shows and not just follow market tastes,” he said.