Indonesian religious court rebuked over child marriages

Activists, church groups express outrage after Muslim judicial body approves more than 13,200 child marriages last year
Indonesian religious court rebuked over child marriages

A young actress takes part in an Amnesty international publicity event in Rome to denounce child marriage in this Oct. 27, 2016 file photo. (Photo by Gabriel Bouys/AFP)

Church and rights activists have slammed Indonesia’s religious court for “abusively” granting permission for thousands of underage children to marry.

Indonesian law sets the minimum age of 19 for man and 16 for a girl to marry. However, the religious court — for Muslims to resolve matters concerning religion such as marriage — has the authority to give dispensation to people below the minimum age.

According to an annual Supreme Court report released this week, the religious court issued 13,251 marriage dispensations in 2018, which was roundly condemned by activists.

Activists and the U.N. consider child marriage a violation of a child’s rights, especially girls with regard to development and exposure to health risks, as well as physical, psychological and sexual abuse.

Susanto, chairman of the Indonesian Child Protection Commission (KPAI), accused the religious court of approving child marriages wantonly just because it has the authority to do so.

“It should halt or at the very least curb permission,” Susanto told on April 4.

“We have to make sure children grow and develop,” he said.  

“We have to consider various aspects of girls such as education, psychology, and health,” he said.

He said the commission wants to see the government revise the law and increase the minimum age, from 19 to 23 for males and from 16 to 21 for females, which should be strictly enforced.

Arist Merdeka Sirait, chairman of the National Commission for Child Protection, said the religious court appears oblivious to the consequences of allowing children to marry.

“The court needs to consider their future because it generates other problems too, such as poverty and domestic violence,” he said.

Yuli Nugrahani, an official of Gender and Women Empower Secretariat at the Indonesian Bishops’ Conference, expressed dismay at the high figure.

She said child marriage negatively affects children, particularly girls, physically and psychologically because they are deprived of a normal childhood.

“If a girl is not prepared mentally and physically to get married, when she gets pregnant, it can be life threatening or lead to abortion,” she said.

Nugrahani said child marriage in Indonesia is endemic and traditional among ethnic groups, while some parents want their children to get married young for economic reasons.

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Instead of giving dispensation, she said, the religious court should be actively preventing teenagers from getting married.

“Prevention is important and can be done by providing education, counseling, and advocacy to children, parents, and society, like what the Catholic Church is doing,” she said.  

According to the Indonesian Statistics Agency, about 340,000 Indonesian girls aged 15-18 are married each year, making the 7th highest prevalence globally and the second highest in Southeast Asia after Cambodia.

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