Indonesia’s efforts to end child marriage under fire

Govt's commitment on issue questioned after rates increase over the last two years
Indonesia’s efforts to end child marriage under fire

A group of Indonesian Muslim women with their children offer morning prayers outside a mosque in Tangerang, in the suburbs of Jakarta in this file photo July 6, 2016. One in six Indonesian girls get married before they reach 18, according to the U.N. (Photo by Goh Chai Hin/AFP)

A group of NGO’s has accused the Indonesian government of failing to commit to eliminating child marriage after it emerged marriage rates had increased over the past two years.

Indonesia says it is committed to achieving its Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, one of which is to eliminate all harmful practices against girls and women including child marriage. 

However, according to UNICEF, one in six girls in the country gets married before 18, which equals to 340,000 girls a year.

On Nov. 7, the Indonesian Coalition to End Child Marriage (18+ Coalition) issued a statement citing Central Statistics Agency figures in which it said child marriage rates had increased from 22.8 percent in 2015 to 25.7 percent in 2017. 

“This is concrete evidence of the government’s failure to commit to eliminating child marriage,” Supriyadi Widodo Eddyono, the group’s lawyer, told ucanews.com.

He blamed the marriage law — which sets 16 as the minimum age for a woman to marry and 19 for a man — for the increase.

“The government must immediately change the minimum age. Otherwise, the situation will get worse,” he said.

Listyowati, chairwoman of Kalyanamitra — an organization that conducted a study on child marriage in 2014, said unwanted pregnancies, poverty and local customs were also major driving forces behind child marriage.

“Child marriage limits girls’ education, health, future income, safety and abilities,” she said, adding that West Nusa Tenggara, South Sulawesi, West Java, East Java and Central Java were the provinces with the highest rates of child marriage. 

Meanwhile, Good Shepherd Sister Theresia Kurniawati, an activist nun, said education can be a way of reducing child marriage besides revision of the law.

“Education, particularly in remote areas, must be improved. Through education, we can help children have a better understanding about child marriage,” she said.

Activist, Endang Wastrinah, who got married at the age of 14, questioned the increase.

“What has the government done?” she asked. 

“I suffered a lot. I was not ready to get married,” she said, adding that she was forced to become a child bride because her parents had financial difficulties. 

Along with two other child brides, she filed a judicial review request to amend the marriage law in April, backed by the 18+ Coalition. The petition has so far fallen on deaf ears they said.

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Last week, the Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Ministry, in association with religious leaders and well-known public figures announced a month-long campaign it said would reduce child marriage by calling on people to protect children’s rights.

“If their rights are protected, there will be no more child marriages,” Minister Yohana Susana Yembise told reporters at the time, without providing more details about the campaign.

She also did not rule out a change in the marriage law, saying she had met with Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim Saifuddin to discuss the issue.

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