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Is it possible to stop child marriage?

 A girl attends a mass prayer during Eid al-Adha festival in Kalitengah village, on the slopes of volcano Mount Merapi, Yogyakarta October 26, 2012. © Reuters

A girl attends a mass prayer during Eid al-Adha festival in Kalitengah village, on the slopes of volcano Mount Merapi, Yogyakarta October 26, 2012. © Reuters

Child marriage is still legal in Indonesia. It sounds provocative and cannot be denied. That it is legal can be seen clearly when the Constitutional Court declined suit against child marriage filed by women and children rights activist in June 2015.

Indonesian Constitutional Court rejected to amend the age limit for girls in the Marriage Law from 1974 (article 7, paragraph 1) from 16 to 18 years old. The Constitutional Court did not see any guarantee that the amendment would decrease problems of reproductive health, divorces and other social problems.

In its rage after the rejection by the Constitutional Court one of the plaintiffs, the head of the family planning association (Perkumpulan Keluarga Berencana Indonesia), stated that the government had openly legalized pedophilia.

For most educated Indonesians living in big cities, child marriage seems almost untrue. It is only considered casuistic, does not happen very often and the number is not significant. It is somehow understandable that some people think like this – mostly people living in Jakarta. The only case of child marriage which “gained popularity” was the case of Syekh Puji from Semarang in Central Java, which happened between 2009 and 2010.

But the reality is different. National Socio-Economic Survey (SUSENAS) 2012 showed, about 11.13% girls were married in the age between 10 and 15, and about 32.10% married between 16 and 18.

© picture-alliance/dpa/C. Oelrich

© picture-alliance/dpa/C. Oelrich

Can you imagine that? Almost half of the marriages in Indonesia involve girls between 10 and 18 years old. Is it not the age where they should obtain education and protection from the family, society and government? It makes sense to be in rage like the activists.

When the world is trying to put an end to child marriage, Indonesia seems to perpetuate it. Council of Foreign Relations (cfr.org) stated Indonesia is one of the 10 countries with the highest number of child marriages.

Zero Tolerance to Child Marriage

Of course the disappointing decision of Constitutional Court did not deter the activists from fighting for child protection. Several women organizations and activists of reproductive health made education program which focused on reproduction. This program also gives information about the risks of child marriage.

Activists also urged local governments to support the efforts to abolish child marriage for example by issuing a policy. These efforts have brought some success. Local government of Gunung Kidul, Yogyakarta, for example has issued “Perbup no.36/2015“ to prevent child marriage after seeing that the numbers continued to increase.

The same thing happened in Nusa Tenggara Barat province. The local governor issued “Surat Edaran Gubernur No.150/1138/Kum” that recommends the best marriage age for women and men is 21. Till now activists continue to search for legal solution to stop child marriage.

An old saying from Africa tells us that “it needs a whole village to raise a child.” So,what about raising girls in Indonesia? Are we going to stay silent?

Isn’t it our duty to protect all Indonesian children? Hopefully all of us will agree soon and work hard together to stop child marriage, so that a brighter future awaits all Indonesian girls.

 

Author:

Tunggal Pawestri is Indonesian feminist who works for women’s rights, sexuality, diversity and human rights. (Twitter: @tunggalp)

Translated from Indonesian by Marjory Linardy

Editor: Isha Bhatia

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The Silent Screams…

Today, I’m in peace but there was once when my sealed lips and tear-filled eyes pleaded for mercy. My silence questioned my worth, ‘Am I a piece of land sought to be used for purpose?’ My questions remained unrequited and I deceased to peace. You know, who am I? I am the one with sparkling eyes and babyish look, an eight-year-old girl who perished in urine rupture and internal bleeding on being married to a 40-year-old man. I am a victim of child bride. (January 8, 2015)

Date

19.08.2016 | 13:50

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