Ida Maharani Hutagaol is holding the abandoned baby-boy that she can't adopt because she is a Christian. (Photo: Johannes Surbakti Surbakti)
Ida Maharani Hutagaol holds the abandoned baby boy, whom, according to Indonesian law, she can’t adopt because she is a Christian. (Photo: Johannes Surbakti Surbakti)

Religious minorities in Indonesia are discriminated against when they want to adopt, according to Human Rights Watch’s report, which highlights the case of a Christian policewoman from North Sumatra.

Ida Maharani Hutagaol, took a month-old boy, found abandoned in a ditch in Binjal, to hospital and ensured he was well cared for.

In subsequent months she grew so attached to him that she decided to adopt him. She filled out the necessary documents and made sure she met all other requirements. What she wasn’t told in the application process, however, was that her religion would prohibit her from adopting the boy, as she is a Christian and lives in a majority Sunni Muslim area.

According to Indonesia’s 2014 Child Protection law “adoptive parents should have the same religion as the child”. In cases where the child’s origin is unknown, a national regulation (2007) states “the child’s religion is conformed to the religion of the majority of the local population”.

Human Rights Watch concludes that “the law effectively bars religious minorities from adopting children who aren’t known to be of the same religion” and refers to Retno Listyarti, “a commissioner on the official Indonesian Child Protection Commission, who says the law provides zero flexibility for adoptions by religious minorities”.

According to the latest reports, the baby has been handed over to an orphanage.

Other challenges

For people like Hutagaol this is not the only challenge as a Christian living in a majority-Muslim country.

Authorities have been known to ban churches from holding religious activities and Christians face pressure from radical groups as well.

Last year the brand new Santa Clara Church in Bekasi was sealed off by an Islamist group, demanding that its permit be annulled. The Asian Human Rights Commission started an appeal on the church’s behalf, calling for the government to “revise the law on the establishment of worship places without any discrimination among the various religions and beliefs that exist in Indonesia”.

Meanwhile Indonesian Christians planning to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Protestant Christianity this month were forced to abandon a stadium event following threats from Muslim hardliners.

Pancasila and blasphemy

Apostasy and blasphemy are punishable by law in Indonesia, with the sentencing of Jakarta’s former governor, ‘Ahok’, for blasphemy being the most high-profile and recent case.

The Indonesian Constitution is based on the doctrine of Pancasila – five principles held to be inseparable and interrelated – the nation’s belief in the one and only God, just and civilised humanity, the unity of Indonesia, democracy guided by the inner wisdom in the unanimity arising out of deliberations among representatives, and social justice for all.

Islamist extremists, however, have been growing in both numbers and political clout in the country, which has challenged the nation’s image as a model of Islam’s compatibility with democracy.

At the UN General Assembly this September, its Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief reiterated that “the application [of blasphemy laws] more often than not invites a cycle of hatred and hostility, reinforcing prejudice and triggering a spiral of angry and violent responses”.

A law that will guarantee the rights of religious minorities in the country is expected to be presented to Indonesia’s House of Representatives before the end of the year, but Human Rights Watch says the bill is “nothing less than a repackaging of highly toxic regulations against religious minorities in Indonesia”.