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Indonesia: why underage girls are marrying

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Indonesia: why underage girls are marrying

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Asia

Indonesia: why underage girls are marrying

Two separate underage couples held weddings in Indonesia last week after seeking approval from a religious court. The marriages have stirred strong criticism at home and abroad with calls to end child marriage.

Nigeria Proteste gegen Kinderehe (picture alliance/AP Photo)

Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has responded to renewed pressure to end child marriage after a 14-year-old girl and a 15-year-old boy were wed on the island of Sulawesi last week.

The couple was permitted to marry by a religious court, after initially being rejected from the country's office of religious affairs.

Footage of the union went viral on social media, prompting nationwide criticism of underage marriage. Just days later, videos surfaced online of another wedding between a 14-year-old girl and a 15-year-old boy in Lombok.

Pressure mounts

Women's rights activists in Indonesia have urged Jokowi to issue a presidential decree to outlaw the practice in the Southeast Asian country, which has one of the highest numbers of child marriages in the world.

"We have asked him to end child marriage in Indonesia," Naila Rizqi Zakiah, a public attorney from the Jakarta-based community legal center LBH Masyarakat, tol d DW.

Read more: Child marriage in Iran forces girls into a life of oppression

On April 20, Zakiah was one of 18 Indonesian women's rights activists invited to meet with Jokowi at the presidential Bogor Palace, where she said they raised three issues: child marriage, sexual violence against women, and the controversial bill to revise the criminal code (which includes one contentious clause to criminalize sexual acts between unmarried men and women).

Zakiah said the president "responded to the call to end child marriage," agreeing to introduce a regulation to lift the minimum legal age for marriage to 20 for girls and 22 for boys (with parental consent).

Read more: Why implementing child bride verdict is a challenge in India

  • Bildergalerie Kinderheirat in Südasien

    Child marriage 'epidemi c' on the rise in South Asia

    Lowering the age bar

    In a report released on Tuesday, June 9, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the Bangladeshi authorities to spur efforts to deal with what it calls an "epidemic" of child marriage. The international rights group criticized Bangladeshi legislation which proposes lowering the legal marriage age from 18 to 16.

  • Bildergalerie Kinderheirat in Südasien

    Child marriage 'epidemic' on the rise in South Asia

    Before their 15th birthday

    Around 30 percent of girls in Bangladesh are married off before their 15th birthday, according to the report "Marry Before Your House is Swept Away." The HRW report is based on interviews with scores of Bangladeshi child brides. Child marriage is illegal in Bangladesh, but birth certificates can easily be forged by b ribing officials to facilitate underage marriages.

  • Bildergalerie Kinderheirat in Südasien

    Child marriage 'epidemic' on the rise in South Asia

    Poverty is a reason

    Frequent natural disasters have pushed many Bangladeshis into greater poverty. This has also resulted in more child marriages, as a girl is considered a financial burden in most South Asian families. Bangladeshi PM Sheikh Hasina pledged to end marriages under the age of 15 by 2021 last year at a conference in London. But rights groups say her government hasn't done much to fulfil that promise.

  • Bildergalerie Kinderheirat in Südasien

    Child marriage 'epidemic' on the rise in South Asia

    Domestic abuse and marital r ape

    Studies show that the lack of education for girls traps them not just in a cycle of poverty, making them economically dependent, but also puts their health at serious risk. Young brides targets of domestic abuse and marital rape as well.

  • Massenhochzeit in Indien

    Child marriage 'epidemic' on the rise in South Asia

    Rampant in South Asia

    The issue is not confined to Bangladesh. Forced early marriages are widespread in the whole of South Asia, also because of cultural and religious ideas about the appropriate marriage age. According to UNHCR estimates, globally more than 140 million girls will be married off before their 18th birthday over the next decade, and almost 50 percent of these brides are in South Asia.

  • Bildergalerie Kinderheirat in Südasien

    Child marriage 'epidemic' on the rise in South Asia

    Social practices vs laws

    Child marriage is prohibited by national and regional laws in South Asian countries such as India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. But the practice persists unabated. According to a report by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), 24.4 million women between the ages 20 to 24 were reportedly married before they were 18 years old between 2000 and 2010.

  • Nigeria Proteste gegen Kinderehe

    Child marriage 'epidemic' on the rise in South Asia

    Change in attitude

    Stephen Adkisson, UNICEF's Deputy Regional Director for South Asia, told DW it was crucial to engage communities to promote dialogue on issues such as child marriage, maternal deaths and gender-bias ed selection in order to change mindsets, which are the result of deeply embedded social, economic, cultural and political factors.

    Author: Shamil Shams


Progress on pause

Despite increasing socio-economic development, underage marriage remains prevalent in Indonesia, which is home to 255 million people and the world's largest Muslim population.

An estimated 17 percent of Indonesian girls are married before the age of 18, according to a collaborative report on child marriage from the Indonesian government and UNICEF called "Progress on Pause." Alarmingly, this report found that the prevalence of the practice has hit a plateau after decreasing for the past three decades.

Read more: UN: Child marriage dropped significantly in previous decade

Although this percentage is not as high as in countries like Bangladesh (74 percent) and Niger (76 percent), because of its enormous population In donesia is among the top ten countries with the highest absolute number of child brides, ranking seventh globally.

UNICEF reports that 1,408,000 Indonesian women aged 20 to 24 were married before the age of 18. And 50,000 girls under 15 still marry in Indonesia each year.

Contradictory laws

Under the 1974 Marriage Law, men and women are permitted to marry at the age of 21 without parental consent, and with parental approval girls can legally marry at 16 and boys at 19.

A loophole in this law â€" "dispensation" (exemption) â€" means that parents can legally allow their children to marry at effectively any age, even without their expressed consent, if they have the support of a religious or civil court.

This contradicts Indonesia's own 2002 law on child protection, which defines a child as someone under the age of 18, and the country's ratification of the UN convention on the Rights of a Child, which acknowledges child marriage as a human rights violation.

Women's rights activists and Indonesia's Women Empowerment and Child Protection Ministry have sought to change this, campaigning for the removal of dispensation from the Marriage Act.

"Now in Indonesia, parents can ask for dispensation to marry off their children if they are under 16 and 19. But we are asking that dispensation is eliminated from the act so that the religious court will not be able to marry off children under 20 and 22," Zakiah told DW.

Watch video 01:23

Combating child marriages

Driving factors

Many not-for-profit organizations such as Girls Not Brides and Aliansi Remaja Independen (Independent Young People Alliance, ARI) attribute the prevalence of child marriage in Indonesia to poverty, a lack of education and rigid gender norms.

A recent study from BMC Public Health found that girls who live in rural areas in Indonesi a are statistically more likely to be married before the age of 18, and those with "education, wealth and media exposure" less so. It also revealed that underage unions are often seen as a way out of poverty for poor families, although concluded that rather than improve economic status in the long term, "child marriage in Indonesia likely maintains or exacerbates poverty."

Hoko Horii, a researcher specializing in this topic from the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, told DW it is not just socio-economic factors that drive child marriage, but deeply entrenched cultural traditions. Horii said her research has overwhelmingly revealed "social stigma" as a reason for the persistence of child marriage in Indonesia.

In families with a history of underage marriages, Horii told DW, girls who are unmarried at the age of 18 are "considered to be 'unattractive' or 'old-maids.'"

In cases where the couple is a lready in a "pacaran" (romantic relationship), or they become "too close," Horii said marriage is seen as a way of "avoiding 'zinah' â€" premarital sexual intercourse that is prohibited in Islam."

"In Indonesia being pregnant or giving birth out of wedlock is unacceptable," said Horii. "And abortion is basically illegal in Indonesia, so there is no other option than to get married if a girl gets pregnant."

Significant risks

Although it may protect young girls from social ostracization, child marriage has been shown to pose a significant health risk for children, particularly for young females who experience a higher rate of maternal mortality.

According to the report from BMC Public Health, complications during childbirth and pregnancy are one of the leading causes of death among adolescent girls in Indonesia. Children born to young mothers are also at greater risk of having poor nutritional health.

Aditya Septiansyah, program manager of child marriage prevention at ARI, told DW that girls that marry underage are also far more likely to drop out of school, descend into poverty, and become victims of domestic violence.

Progress on Pause reiterates these concerns, labelling child marriage "a fundamental violation of girls' human rights," limiting their "education, health, future income, safety, agency and abilities."

Septiansyah uses the example of "FZ" from East Jakarta.

FZ was forced to marry after getting pregnant at the age of 14. She was then taken out of school to give birth and look after her son, while her husband works as a garbage collector. FZ, Septiansyah told DW, is now confined to a life of poverty with little chance of pursuing her education.

For this young Indonesian girl, Septiansyah said, "the impacts of childhood marriage are real."

Watch video 03:24

'Tibeb Girls' fight for girls' rights in Ethiopia

DW recommends

Child marriage in Iran forces girls into a life of oppression

Girls in rural Iran are often forced into marriage at a young age. Protected under Iranian law, the practice is leading to broken families and a generation of children lacking prospects or perspective. (11.09.2017)

UN: Child marriage dropped significantly in previous decade

The children's agency UNICEF welcomed the new findings, but said "we’ve got a long way to go." The new figures show the global burden is shifting from South Asia to sub-Saharan Africa. (06.03.2018)

Why implementing child bride verdict is a challenge in India

The Supreme Court's ruling that having sexual intercourse with a wife aged under 18 is rape marks a big step forward i n the fight against child marriage and sexual abuse of minors. But many worry about its enforcement. (13.10.2017)

Banning child marriage, Honduras leads Americas and EU

Lawmakers in Honduras have banned child marriage under the age of 18. Often caused by poverty, such arrangements usually involve older men taking teenage wives, risking girls' health and depriving them of education. (13.07.2017)

Child marriage 'epidemic' on the rise in South Asia

Human Rights Watch has urged Bangladesh to scrap a proposed legislation that calls for lowering the legal marriage age of girls to 16. Child marriage rates are very high in South Asia, with Bangladesh topping the list. (09.06.2015)

WWW links

Progress on Pause

BMC Public Health report

Audios and videos on the topic

'Tibeb Girls' fight for girls' rights in Ethiopia

Combating child marriages

  • Date 01.05.2018
  • Author Charli Shield
  • Related Subjects Asia, Islam
  • Keywords Asia, Indonesia, child marriage, Islam, Sulawesi, Lombok
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  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/2wvZA

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