No girl should be robbed of her childhood, education, health and aspirations. Yet today millions of girls are denied their rights each year when they are married young.
Indonesian girls are no exception. Millions of young girls in Indonesia are married before they celebrate their 18th birthday.
Teen and child marriage is prevalent in many parts of Indonesia, from Aceh to Papua, with the highest prevalence in Java, Sumatra, West Nusa Tenggara, Kalimantan and South Sulawesi, mostly occurring in rural areas.
The reasons for marrying young vary in each region, ranging from economic security, cultural and religious norms to trivial things. Teen marriage occurs for social advancement, cultural and economic reasons and due to the absence of knowledge on why child marriage is problematic.
In the West Java town of Indramayu, many girls aspire to marry older men because they might be able to buy them smartphones. On Lombok Island, girls and boys follow the tradition of “elopement”, while in South Sulawesi it is taboo for girls to reject their first marriage proposal.
Based on data from the Central Statistics Agency (BPS), about 22 million boys and girls aged between 15 and 19 are married. The Health Ministry’s 2013 National Basic Health Research Survey revealed that more than 42
percent of girls aged 15 to 19 were married.
UNICEF data said that one out of every six Indonesian girls were married before they turned 18, about 340,000 girls every year. Around 50,000 girls are married before they reach the age of 15 every year.
Health Minister Nina Moeloek said recently that ending teen marriage was among the nation’s challenges.
“Cultural barriers have triggered a rise in the number of child brides, and some traditional and religious practices have forced women to continue giving birth,” the minister said.
To make things worse, the 1974 Marriage law sets the minimum age of marriage for girls at 16 years old and 19 years old for boys, contravening the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Indonesia has ratified the convention, which declares marriage before 18 years of age a fundamental violation of human rights.
A number of civil society groups, government agencies and individuals have called for a judicial review of the outdated Marriage Law, demanding an increase in the minimum marriage age for girls to 18 years old.
The Constitutional Court, however, sees nothing wrong with allowing 16-year-old girls to marry, saying that it has not found justifiable reason to increase the minimum marriage age.
The losing battle at the court may serve as a major setback, but efforts to delay marriage among young girls have snowballed.
Margaretha Sitanggang, an officer with the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) Indonesia National Program for Youth and Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health, said that together with other UN agencies, including UNICEF, and civil society, UNFPA was active in supporting government efforts to launch policies and initiatives to increase the minimum marriage age.
“Teen marriage is a very big and sensitive topic in Indonesia since it is closely linked to social, cultural, economic and religious issues. The problem must be addressed wisely and in a comprehensive matter from various perspectives,” she said.
UNFPA is working with the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) and other civil society groups to conduct a study on the negative impacts of teen marriage on girls’ health, education and economic opportunities.
UNFPA will also work with Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, two of the largest Muslim organizations in the country, lawmakers and other institutions to take on teen marriage.
“We want to collect as much evidence as possible to show lawmakers, policymakers and other relevant parties the importance of delaying marriage for girls in Indonesia so that changes can be made to enhance the lives of these young girls.”