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Remarks of UNFPA Representative Dr. Annette Sachs Robertson at the 2019 COMMEMORATION OF INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY Seminar on Child Marriage, March 6, 2019

Distinguished guests,

  1. The Minister of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection, HE. Dr. Yohana Susana Yembise
  2. The Representatives of the Presidential Office
  3. The Head of Cooperation of the Canada Embassy, Mr. Pierre-Yves Monnard
  4. The Representatives of the Coordinating Ministry of PMK, Bappenas, BKKBN, Ministry of Health, Komnas Perempuan and KPAI (KA PE AA EE)
  5. The  Representatives of CSOs and Women Activist
  6. The Representatives of UN Agencies and International Development Partners

Ladies and gentlemen

Good afternoon, Selamat siang

Seventeen-year old Warsih living in Muara Baru, North Jakarta, married her 44 year old husband in an unregistered marriage  (nikah siri) when she was 14 years old. It was her first marriage and her husband’s third. She dropped out of school when she became pregnant with her first son. Her husband was a fisherman who sent her money every month. However, three months after she gave birth to her second baby, her husband stopped sending her money and she never heard from him again. With an unfinished elementary  education, no skills and no working experience, Warsih was unable to find a permanent job. She and her small children lived in a makeshift house in Muara Baru, relying on her elderly parents’ meager financial help to meet basic needs. Warsih – and this is not her real name but this is a real story – story is not atypical.

Ladies and Gentlemen

This afternoon, as part of the commemoration of International Women’s Day, we gather here to discuss our joint efforts for a legal environment to increase the age of marriage to end child marriage, one of the persistent challenges affecting our girls, including Warsih and many others like her, in many communities in Indonesia.

The Marriage Law 1974 permits women and men to marry at 21 but allows girls to marry at 16 and boys to marry at 19 with parental permission. Parents can also ask religious courts or local officials to authorize marriages of girls even earlier, thus essentially there is no minimum age of marriage in such cases.

This is an unacceptable legal situation by Indonesia’s national standards and given its international commitments.

Indonesia ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1990 and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1984; and both human rights instruments, do not permit child marriage. Adolescent health is among the key highlights in the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), which Indonesia endorsed, calling on countries to eliminate child marriage through laws and policies that promote human rights. The Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs, which Indonesia has nationalized, and made an integral part of the RPJMN, also includes SDG target 5.3 which includes elimination of child, early and forced marriage by 2030.

The Constitutional Court decision in December last year was a welcome progress after years of advocacy and we hope the Indonesian Parliament will quickly follow up on the Constitutional Court's decision by amending the marriage law to be in line with Indonesia’s own international and national commitments.  

1 in 9 girls are married before the age of 18 years old (which translates to 375 girls marrying every day) and that 0.5% girls are married or in union before 15 years of age.

There is no room for complacency as these figures and the story of Warsih tells us is that this practice persists and is still socially accepted in some communities where there is significant poverty, gender inequality and lack of opportunities for girls.

Ladies and Gentlemen

UNFPA is working towards its vision of Three Zeroes by 2030. Zero Maternal Death, Zero Unmet Need for Family Planning, Zero violence and harmful practices against women and girls, including Zero child marriage and Zero female genital mutilation.  Inclusiveness and equality, of a world where no woman or girl is left behind, is the central tenet for the achievement of the SDGs. UNFPA will not rest until the three zeros are achieved and that includes zero child marriage.

Child marriage - a harmful practice – is a human rights violation that directly jeopardizes young girls’ lives, wellbeing among the short term impacts and their self development and future life opportunities in the long term. Warsih’s story is just one example.   

Seen as a way out of poverty, child marriage is quite the opposite as it becomes a vicious cycle that exposes girls to entrenched poverty facilitating the transfer of poverty to the next generation.

Instead of an exciting and happy expectation, teenage pregnancy or pregnancy among girls, essentially children giving birth to children, increases risk to morbidity and mortality for the girls and their babies, contributing to the unacceptably high number of maternal deaths in Indonesia.

No society can and should afford to lose the opportunity for growth and no society should thrive on exploitation and waste of talent that child marriage causes.

Ladies and Gentlemen

I would like to share some of the best practices from subnational level initiatives documented by MOWECP and UNFPA

Firstly, implementation of favorable policies and programmes, to address social and cultural norms that preserve inequalities, protect the rights of women and girls and promote male involvement for prevention of child marriage. In 2015, head of Gunung Kidul district issued regulation no.36/2015 on ending child marriage. Government of NTB endorsed a Governor Surat Edaran to increase age of marriage.

Secondly, raising awareness contributed to fostering meaningful engagement of communities. We have seen, in Rembang District, family and communities members acted as rights and gender equality advocates. Village midwives educated families on  healthy behavior and negative impact of child marriage. Religious leaders sensitized community members to start a family only when girls are ready physically, mentally and economically.

Thirdly, improved intersectoral partnership between health sector, law enforcement, legal aid, NGOs, community and religious leaders and all community elements mobilized players to tackle the root causes of child marriage through joint programmes on education on gender equality and women’s empowerment, skills training and poverty reduction.

We have seen various other good policies and programmes being implemented to end child marriage, including child friendly cities/districts by government, mandatory 12 years education, support to facilitate girls staying in school and pursuing higher education and joint vocational and skill trainings of girls.    

Let girls go through their adolescent years as girls NOT as child mothers with responsibilities beyond their years and ability. Let girls learn-interact-play-absorb good life values; and grow up empowered to apply their rights, seize future opportunities and make responsible life choices.

We need to renew commitment, explore new partnerships, identify new opportunities, innovate and build on each others’ strengths to further a strategic agenda for girls, including Warsih.  Realizing the rights, empowerment and involvement of Indonesian adolescents, especially girls, will contribute to harnessing the demographic bonus that Indonesia so desperately needsWith your commitment we can make the elimination of child marriage a reality for all girls, regardless of their economic, educational or domicile situation. For Warsih it is too late. Let us not fail any more girls.

Terima kasih