World, Asia - Pacific

Child marriage remains a serious problem in Indonesia

Currently, one in every seven girls in Indonesia is married before the age of 18

21.11.2017
Child marriage remains a serious problem in Indonesia

By Chandni Vasandani

JAKARTA, Indonesia

Ika, not her real name, was married off at the age of 14. Now at 18, she is the mother of two children; a boy and a girl.

"My parents were afraid that I would commit adultery, so marriage was seen as a way to avoid that. I would never let my little daughter marry at such a young age, it would pain me. I want her to study and educate herself," Ika told Anadolu Agency during a recent visit to Ancolmekar village in West Java.

Child marriage is a serious issue in Indonesia, which has the seventh highest number of child marriages in the world. It is estimated that one in every seven girls in Indonesia are married before 18, the age recommended by international human rights organizations.

Pressing poverty, lack of education and to a certain extent, cultural norms are some of the factors contributing to the prevalence of child marriage in Indonesia. According to a study by the Indonesian Statistics Agency (BPS) and UNICEF, 30.5 percent of girls in West Java are child brides. The study covered the period 2010-2015.

Ika, along with dozens of other women and girls, take part in a bi-monthly gathering organized by Bale Istri. Literally meaning "The Hall of Wives", the informal gathering was initiated by Sapa Institute, a formal communication and education platform for women supported by the local government, back in 2007.

In its 10th year now, Bale Istri is self-sustaining, often holding discussions, meet-ups and general venting sessions open to all of its members. Once a month, they meet to read the Qur'an, selecting verses to empower women.

"The activities at Bale Istri are aimed at all women, both mothers as well as young, unmarried girls. Child marriage is a chain that has to be broken and over here, parents are still the main decision- makers at home so we hope to influence and change their mindsets," Dindin Syaripudin, Program Coordinator at Sapa Institute, told Anadolu Agency.


Gender equality to bring change

One of the agendas of Bale Istri is to hold open, honest discussions about gender equality in the hopes that it will reduce the cases of violence experienced by local women, including early marriage.

Dindin is not hesitant to slap the victim label on young brides. He says they are indeed victims, as they are robbed of multiple rights when they are forced into marriage.

"Many have had to stop going to school at junior high level. They are also unable to enjoy a normal childhood as they deserve," he explained.

Several local residents are of the same mindset and carry out their personal protests against the practice of child marriage.

Ruslan, a marriage officiant at the village, downright refuses to solemnize some unions. Despite the scorn, Ruslan is steadfast in his obligation to oversee that the bridge and groom are both of age.

"Morally, it does not feel right to me so I end up turning down teenage couples who want to get married. Of course, I receive a fine for that. They can also have another official perform the ceremony for them," Ruslan said.

Child marriage is thought to be behind several social problems like domestic violence, high mother and infant mortality rates, divorce and even trafficking. Under Indonesia's 1974 Marriage Law, girls can legally marry at 16, although boys must be at least 19. That contradicts the 2002 law on child protection, which defines a child as someone under the age of 18.


Focus on five provinces

A program by the Ministry Of Women Empowerment And Child Protection (PPPA) launched in early November calls for an end to the practice of child marriage.

The "Gerakan Bersama Stop Perkawinan Anak" is focused on five provinces – West Nusa Tenggara, East Java, Central Java, West Java and South Sulawesi – that were found to have the highest number of child brides.

The movement is ambitious, aiming to change the public mindset and highlighting the hardships a child bridge will have to face for life.

"We are getting to the root of the problem by attempting to end child marriage. Only after that we can try to reduce the rate of mother and infant mortality, increase the quality of education and human development index," Deputy PPA Minister for Child Growth Lenny Rosalin told Anadolu Agency.

According to UNICEF, ending child marriage remains a homework for Indonesia as part of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. They believe education is a strategy that has proven to be successful in reducing the number of child marriages globally.

"Supporting girls to complete secondary education has been proven to be an important protective factor in the effort to prevent child marriage," said Emilie Minnick, child protection specialist at UNICEF Indonesia.

"Secondary education contributes to providing girls with the knowledge and skills they need to negotiate important decisions as well as increasing opportunities for employment which can reduce poverty."

Besides that, UNICEF also campaigns to end child marriage by directly involving young people in the efforts and ensuring their participation in issues that affect them.

In the last three decades, Indonesia has noted a more than twofold decrease in the prevalence of child marriage.

However, the UNICEF-BPS report finds that the trend is stagnant and the numbers have only decreased by seven percent in the last seven years. Currently, the number of child marriages in Indonesia remains among the highest in the East Asia and Pacific region.

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