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In Indonesia, a debate over a minimum age for marriage

Top court hears arguments on marriage age; activists say 16 is too young for girls

In Indonesia, a debate over a minimum age for marriage

Indonesia’s minimum age for marriage — 16 for girls — must stay the same to prevent promiscuity and other perceived social ills, the country’s highest Islamic authority has told a court examining the issue.

Speaking before Indonesia’s Constitutional Court in Jakarta on Tuesday, Amidhan Saberah, chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), attempted to draw a link between large age gaps at marriage and promiscuity.

“A large age gap — according to Islam — often creates damages in the society such as adultery, free sex or the phenomenon of unwed pregnancy,” Amidhan said. “The latter often leads to an abortion among female teenagers. The current minimum age for marriage … can prevent such negative impacts.”

Indonesia’s top court has been examining the issue after women’s and children’s rights activists petitioned the court in March for a judicial review of part of the 1974 Marriage Law, which says that marriages are allowed between men who are 19 and girls who are 16 years old.

Amidhan’s comments Tuesday were part of continued hearings on the issue, during which the court will hear from various religious and social groups.

Amidhan said promiscuity has reached unacceptable levels among Indonesia’s teenagers, though his comments appeared to be vague about how altering the current minimum ages for marriage would affect this.

“Free sex has become a new ideology among both female and male teenagers,” he said. “Therefore, the minimum age for marriage as stipulated in the law should not be made an issue.”

However, Zumrotin K Susilo from the Women’s Health Foundation, one of the groups that petitioned the court on the issue, called the MUI’s arguments illogical.

“How can child marriage deal with such social issues as free sex? These, instead, should be addressed with policies prioritizing the children’s rights,” she told ucanews.com after Tuesday’s hearing.

Teenagers who are 16, she said, aren’t psychologically able to be parents.

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“A child marriage makes teenagers dropouts, as they have to [provide for] their families,” she said. “It violates the children’s rights to grow.”

Her group hopes the judicial review will eventually result in the current minimum age for marriage being changed to 18.

According to Yuniyanti Chuzaifah from the National Commission on Violence against Women, allowing girls to marry at 16 forces inappropriate responsibilities, both psychological and physical, on to children who are not yet ready for them.

Tuesday’s hearing was the court’s ninth on the issue. The court has not set a timeline for reaching a decision.

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