Police in East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) are investigating a kidnapping case in Central Sumba regency that was widely reported as part of an alleged marriage by abduction, along with increasing calls for a regional regulation to put an end to the horrific practice.

In June, a video showing a 21-year-old unidentified woman being taken away from her neighbor’s house by a group of men went viral, showing the latest instance of what officials and a number of activists have condemned as marriage by abduction. 

In the video, the woman was carried away in front of other people. Though, according to reports, the victim’s family agreed to the kidnapping as a marital rite, authorities did not tie the case with traditional customs, stressing that any acts that violate the law will be subject to due legal process. 

“We have received one report and are taking care of it, but if both parties want to pursue a peaceful route we will respect their wishes,” NTT Police Chief Hamidin said today.

The Alliance of Women with Theological Education in Indonesia (PERUATI) said that this practice, which is essentially forced marriage, “places a woman in a helpless situation where she is unable to make her own decision.” 

In an online petition calling for a regional regulation to stop marriage by abduction in NTT, PERUATI also noted two other incidents of bride kidnapping, one from January 2017 and another from December of last year, which saw two women allegedly kidnapped.

The incident also caught the attention of the Ministry of Women Empowerment and Child Protection, with Minister I Gusti Ayu Bintang Darmawati stressing that kawin tangkap, which translates to marriage by abduction, is a form of violence against women and children that hides behind local traditions or customs.

“Cultures and traditions are not static, but dynamic. The case of kawin tangkap is a form of violence and harassment against women and children. Don’t let cultural norms be used as a cover to harass women and children,” Bintang said. 

According to Jaleswari Pramodhawardani from the Office of Presidential Staff (KSP), victims of kawin tangkap range between 16 and 26 years of age. 

While the term kawin tangkaphas been widely used in reports on the viral incident and further described as part of local customs in Sumba, local activists have come out to say that the term is inaccurate.

“We reject the term. When we trace back our cultural history in Central Sumba, East Sumba and all of Sumba, there are no mentions of kawin tangkap,” Ninu Rambu W, who is an indigenous woman from Central Sumba and director of Wali Ati Foundation in East Sumba, told Coconuts Bali. 

Ninu emphasized that certain customs may only appear similar at first glance and further condemned the generalizations that have been made by people who are not from Sumba. 

“If it is true that a woman was taken away without the foundation of [mutual] love, then it is indeed a form of violence against women and a human rights violation,” Ninu said, adding that a more thorough investigation will be required before jumping into conclusions.

Read more news and updates from Bali here.

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