UN envoy calls for end to Indonesian child marriages

Government claims move to change minimum age faces resistance from religious leaders
UN envoy calls for end to Indonesian child marriages

A young actress takes part in a campaign by Amnesty International to denounce child marriage in this Oct. 27, 2016 photo in Rome. (Photo by Gabriel Bouys/AFP)

The United Nations' Special Representative of the Secretary General on Violence against Children, Marta Santos Pais, has asked the Indonesian government to pay serious attention to eliminating child marriage.

In a meeting with President Joko Widodo on Feb. 27 in Jakarta, Pais said that 25 percent of Indonesian girls are married before they reach 18. If they get pregnant their health it at risk.

"The health of [young] mothers can be affected and they may even die," Pais said.

According to the Indonesian Statistics Agency about 340,000 Indonesian girls aged 15-18 get married each year. Indonesia is ranked 37 on the global child marriage index and is the second highest in Southeast Asia after Cambodia.

Holy Family Father Hibertus Hartana, executive secretary of the Indonesian bishops' family commission agreed with Pais, and called on Indonesian authorities to revise the marriage law, particularly the minimum age requirement.

Indonesian marriage law sets 16 as the minimum age for a woman to marry and 19 for a man. However, Father Hartana argued that the minimum age for a bride should be 22 when she has reached full maturity and completed her education.

"Marriage requires personal, mental, spiritual, social and economic maturity," Father Hartana told ucanews.com.

"Couples need to prepare before they start a new family," he added.

Imam Nahe'i, a commissioner for the National Commission on Violence against Women said that the majority of child brides never finished school and have an inadequate knowledge of the challenges that await them.

Last year the commission proposed a judicial review of the marriage law but the Constitutional Court rejected it, saying the law was not against the constitution.

"We are trying to encourage the president to make government regulations in lieu of the law," Nahe'i said.

Women Empowerment and Child Protection minister, Yohana Susana Yembise, who also attended the meeting with Pais told reporters that the government was working to set a new minimum age for marriage.

According to Yambise, the government has thought of setting 18 as the minimum age but, however some religious leaders oppose it.

Arist Merdeka Sirait, former director of the National Commission on Child Protection, said child marriage has increased due to cultural and religious attitudes

The highest prevalence of child marriage was in West Nusa Tenggara, West Java, East Java and North Sumatra, Sirait said.

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Nurul, a 20-year-old Javanese woman, said she got married when she was 15 and her husband was 17 because her mother wanted grandchildren. However, after having two children, the couple still live with Nurul's parents in Central Jakarta and they fight almost every day.

"My husband does not have a permanent job," she said.

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