Education, Synergy and Empowerment Keys to Ending Child Marriage in Indonesia

By: Sheany

Jakarta. Putting an end to child marriages remains a challenge for diverse and populous countries like Indonesia, but experts and activists believe that it can be achieved through enhanced efforts in education, synergy across institutions and communities and empowerment for young girls.
Indonesia ranks 7th among countries with the highest absolute numbers of child marriage, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef).

Around one in nine girls in the country are married before they turn 18-years old. The prevalence of child marriage in the country affects approximately 375 girls every day, according to data published by the Unicef.

“If you ask what must be done, then the best way is to work with formal and non-formal institutions, leaders from both, and in particular with the Muslim [community],” Lies Marcoes-Natsir, executive director of Rumah Kita Bersama Foundation, said on Thursday (08/03) at a press conference in Jakarta.

Established in 2010, Rumah Kita Bersama is a research institute for policy advocacy, working to fight for the rights of marginalized communities.

According to Lies, while the Indonesian government has shown commitment to ending child marriages, the problem is centered in the practice of dualism in Islamic and national law.

“There is a trend of fundamentalism or conservatism [among] government officers, who also use the Islamic jurisprudence for legal decisions,” Lies said.

The issue has received less attention than other emergencies recognized by the state, she added. While the legal age of marriage is 21 in Indonesia, there is an exemption to allow girls as young as 16 to wed with parental consent.

Often, child marriage is perceived as a tradition or a solution to economic hardship, and many girls are married through a traditional marriage, or nikah siri.

According to the chairwoman of Girls Not Brides, Princess Mabel van Oranje, there is a misconception as to the benefits of child marriage, and advocacy campaigns to end the practice must be centered on the benefits of the alternatives.

“If Indonesia doesn’t have child marriage, economic growth will increase by 1.7 percent … This is not just about girls’ rights, or the well-being of individuals. This is about a smart investment for families, for communities, for men and boys – they will benefit,” Mabel said, referring to a study on the impact of child marriage on economic growth conducted by Unicef.

Girls Not Brides is a global partnership comprising 900 civil society organizations across 95 countries and works to put an end to child marriage.

Mabel added that one of the key answers to ending child marriage is through education.

Lies echoed this sentiment during the press conference and emphasized that efforts to educate and raise awareness about the issue must also be directed toward adults and boys as part of a collective effort to prevent child marriage.

Education must also give space for awareness about sexual and reproductive health, despite social norms in the country that views intimate issues such as women’s health as taboo.

While these efforts might prove challenging for Indonesia, Mabel said that the work must continue onward.
“We need to find ways to tackle these difficult issues in a respectful way,” Mabel said.

In celebration of International Women’s Day, Unicef, Aksi Network, Girls Not Brides and the Embassy of the Netherlands in Indonesia hosted “Youth Voices Against Child Marriage,” which saw a hundred young Indonesians participate in a discussion on ways to prevent child marriage.

Nadira Irdiana, a committee member of the Aksi Network, said that gender inequality is an issue that affects how young girls see themselves in the public sphere.

It makes the work of empowering young girls important, Nadira said, as it allows girls to believe in their abilities and become independent.

In addition, Nadira argued that children and teenagers must be included in the decision-making processes.
“Give trust to young people, adolescents, to participate in finding the solution,” Nadira said.

Lauren Rumble, deputy representative of Unicef Indonesia, stressed the importance of partnerships among relevant stakeholders, including leaders in government, communities and religious institutions, as well as caregivers, parents and networks, to amplify the voices of girls.

“The perfect solutions are the ones that listen to the voices of girls, demonstrate the alternatives [to child marriage],” Rumble said.

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Legal Dilemma of Child Marriage

KOMPAS, 6 February 2018 – The legal aspect seems to be the weakest in efforts to prevent child marriage in the country. In practice, isbat nikah (a marriage conducted according to customary religious law) and the dispensasi nikah (marriage dispensation; an application to the religious court for permission to marry an underage partner) are two loopholes that can turn the illegal act of marrying a child, legal. Furthermore, both tacitly acknowledge the “legality” of non-state regulations that should thus be deemed illegal, with legal sanctions for violators.

Historically, the existence of non-state laws, including religious and customary laws, are inseparable from the wealth of laws that have existed in Indonesia long before the colonialists brought with them the concept of laws as a consequence of a modern state.

Colonial advisors such as Snouck Hurgronje or Islamic law expert Van den Berg assured that maintaining the customary and religious laws of a colonized people would prevent uprisings.

At the same time, the stance would help the colonial government gain support and acknowledgment for applying ethical policies to a colonized people. Therefore, legal pluralism emerged through recognizing the practice of religious and customary laws, especially in family matters, including marriages, inheritances and donations.

Legal domination and tyranny

During the New Order, advocacy continued for establishing customary and religious laws on an equal standing with state laws. This was especially relevant in relation to indigenous people who wanted to maintain their traditional laws to protect their communal right to customary lands. Activists fought for the implementation of legal pluralism to prevent the unilateral domination of state laws that might be abused to take over indigenous lands as concession areas.

The political nuances that underlined this movement might have been different from those during the colonial era. If legal pluralism was implemented during the colonial regime to tame the colonized population, it was used under the New Order to protect the lands of indigenous groups and tribes that were vulnerable to state occupation in the name of economic development.

However, in relation to family law, the state attempted to consolidate all marriage laws through the Marriage Law (Law No. 1/1974), and the Compilation of Islamic Laws (KHI) under Presidential Instruction No. 1/1991. Under these two regulations, all citizens, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, are required to abide by national laws. The regulations also affirm the authority of state laws above religious laws.

Different from agrarian issues in which activists fight for and defend legal pluralism for the protection of nature-dependent indigenous groups, providing space for customary and religious laws has never been a focal point of struggling for legal pluralism in family law. On the contrary, activists tend to agree on regulating family law through state laws.

In this context, Barry Hooker, an Australian professor of Islamic law, introduced the concept of big laws and small laws to differentiate the level of legal sources between state laws and religious laws (or fikih in Islam) in resolving family matters. For Hooker, what was important was that small laws must abide by big laws.

Such a mindset is manifested in practice through regulations that necessitate a legal hierarchy in which the 1945 Constitution and national laws must serve as the foundations of all derivative regulations. In such a hierarchy, religious and customary laws must not contradict state laws or other regulations that rank above them.

However, it seems that, in the discourse over legal pluralism, no one could imagine that communal, customary and religious laws would be powerless in the face of state laws that were established as a concept of the post-colonial modern state.

Recognizing legal pluralism, which originally aimed to provide recognition and protection for communal, customary and religious laws against the intimidation and oppression of state laws, could lead to legal domination or, at the very least, legal contestation. No one took into account the prerequisites necessary to create such a legal order.

Legal pluralism can only be implemented in a democratic and egalitarian society with equality in social relationships and one that relies on legal philosophy instead of mere personal beliefs. In a non-egalitarian and undemocratic society that does not believe in the principle of equality, legal pluralism can become tyranny. Small laws can be used to shackle bigger laws.

This is being prompted by legal contestations in which religious laws are prioritized over state laws, based on a belief in the sanctity of its source. This is reflected in justifying child marriage through the use of Islamic textual laws that are accepted as actual laws.

In order to resolve this issue, University of Indonesia professor Sulistyowati Irianto said that legal pluralism should be open to new and global regulations, including international conventions on human rights. Legal pluralism should also serve as a tool to correct customary laws when these are not in line with principles of justice.

Loose age boundary

Conventions on child rights and discrimination against women are stronger legal foundations in efforts to prohibit child marriage.

Islamic family law researcher Stjin van Huis of the Netherlands wrote in his research on religious courts in Cianjur and Bulukumba that, in relation to child marriage, judges can refer to social laws and norms in issuing dispensations as long as a minimum age restriction is enforced.

The problem is that Indonesia does not recognize a minimum age restriction for filing marriage dispensations, leading to judges relying mostly on their own discretion in marriage dispensation cases. Therefore, in cases of child marriage, the state seems to lack firmness in implementing age restrictions as stipulated in the Marriage Law. This shows that religious laws still have a significant influence on people – even beyond state laws. Perhaps the influence of religious laws is growing along with the expanding landscape of religious politics in Indonesia’s increasingly conservative public spaces.

As Michael Pelatz wrote in his book, Modern Islam, Religious Courts and Cultural Politics in Malaysia, family law and their implementation by religious courts are critical in helping to create a civil society that abides by national laws and individual rights. At the same time, these laws can free individuals – especially women – from the unjust primordial shackles of ethnicity, traditional customs and gender.

KOMPAS/TOTO SIHONO

Lies Marcoes

Coordinator of Empowerment Programme, Rumah Kitab

Community Forum Discussion of Child Marriage at Panakkukang – Learning from Indonesian and Australian Experience

AIPJ2, MAKASSAR – Child marriage is beyond a statistical issue. The high number of child marriages in Indonesia, which reached 23 percent of all marriages in 2015 (according to the Indonesian Central Bureau of Statistics and UNICEF) also reflects the loss of opportunities for young women in maximising their potential. Poverty and cultural practices are several factors that contribute to the high number of child marriages, including in Tamamaung and Sinrijala, Panakkukang District, Makassar.

The focus of the dialogue held on 1 November 2017 between community members, government representatives and non-formal institutions with Dr. Sharman Stone, Australian Ambassador for Women and Girls , was child marriage prevention. Australia Indonesia Partnership for Justice 2 (AIPJ2) partners, Lies Marcoes and a team from Rumah Kita Bersama (Rumah KitaB), facilitated the discussion including findings from on-the-ground research.

While most child marriage cases in village areas result from poverty (including low levels of education) and cultural practices, Rumah KitaB’s study also finds other factors involved for urban areas, such as limited space in which to interact and the rising conservative value associated with shame. “…This leads parents to put more pressure on girls to get married. Pregnant or not, girls are forced to marry,” said Nurhady Sirimorok, a researcher with Rumah KitaB.

According to Dr. Stone, the Government of Australia supports the lives of children born from early marriages. Nevertheless, Dr. Stone agrees that unwanted pregnancies are challenging for society, especially for girls who have to drop out of school and face the challenge of getting a decent job.

The Government of Indonesia has adopted a minimum age for marriage based on Law no. 1/1974, article 6, which is 16 and 19 years old for women and men respectively. But this does not stop the act of falsifying ages to marry children. A former judge at the religious court in Makassar, Ibu Harijah, said that religious courts are often pressured by parents to provide dispensation to enable the family to avoid public shaming. This situation gives the impression of legal “justification” of child-age marriage.

The issue of birth certificates is also a driving force for the marriage of pregnant teenage girls. One lesson that can be drawn from Australia’s experience is how teenage girls are less stigmatised as single parents now than they were in the past, and receive child support from the government. But as much as this is the case, the family also plays an important role in maximising the potential of teenage girls. “We want all women to have an equal opportunity,” said Dr. Stone.

With various advocacy agencies, efforts to prevent child marriage begin with parenting skills, enrolling dropout children in non-formal education programs, and conducting regular meetings with community members. These agencies also provide skill-enriching activities to improve standard of living. Marketing programs to boost the sale of merchandise created by the girls are also important since they find it difficult to find buyers themselves.

At the end of the discussion, Dr. Stone concluded that differences and similarities related to the situation in Indonesia and Australia make cooperation in prevention very critical. Dr. Stone also appreciated the efforts of religious, cultural, non-formal and local government leaders in Makassar to address the issue.

Source: http://www.aipj.or.id/en/disability_inclusion/detail/community-forum-discussion-of-child-marriage-at-panakkukang-learning-from-indonesian-and-australian-experience

In Indonesia, educating child brides remains a tough challenge

A groundbreaking report by UNICEF and the Indonesian government found that girls marrying before the age of 18 were at least six times less likely to complete senior secondary education compared to their unmarried peers.

SUMENEP REGENCY, Indonesia: Every morning, Dewi Khalifah greets students at the Islamic boarding school she runs, as they make their way to class.

The school, Aqidah Usymuni, is currently home to about 800 boys and girls who are housed on separate properties.

Lessons are held from 7am until 1pm, followed by Quranic studies at 3pm.

Students conclude the day with further religious studies before turning in for the night.

A student greets Dewi Khalifah in the morning. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

But this school isn’t like other schools in East Java province’s Sumenep Regency.

In fact, it is one of a handful of schools in the regency which encourages students to pursue their studies instead of getting married before the age of 18 – something that close to 70 per cent of the people in the regency have done, according to research done in June by an non-government organisation, the Rumah Kita Bersama Foundation.

EDUCATION VS MARRIAGE

Child marriage is rampant in Indonesia.

A report launched in July this year by the government of Indonesia and UNICEF showed that over one in four girls married before reaching adulthood.

The report is the first of its kind for the country – it uses government data to set a baseline for monitoring progress on key sustainable development goals and targets for Indonesia’s 84 million children.

It showed that girls marrying before the age of 18 were at least six times less likely to complete senior secondary education compared to their unmarried peers.

Lessons are held from seven in the morning until one in the afternoon. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

It is also not uncommon to see child brides in Indonesia being discriminated against in schools.

Local media carry reports of students being turned away from public schools upon their marriage, despite no official laws requiring them to do so.

Experts in Madura’s salt-producing Sumenep Regency tell Channel NewsAsia that such is the situation in the regency as well.

There is also the issue of deep-rooted patriarchal views, which place women in a domestic setting, thus restricting child brides from continuing their education if they marry young.

SCHOOL FOR EVERYONE

According to Lies Marcoes Natsir, executive director for the Rumah Kita Bersama Foundation, facts on the ground have shown that if a girl marries before completing high school, chances are, she may never go on to complete it.

This is contrary to the way boys in the same situation are treated, who are still able to continue their studies post-marriage.

“Well it’s different; I will stop studying after I complete high school … I would’ve liked to have gone to college if I didn’t marry. But because I am married, I can’t,” said Sariyatun with a laugh.

The 17-year-old is joined by her friends as she shares her experiences, several of whom are younger than her and married, just like her.

The girls are all students at the Mambaul Ulum Institution, an institution in Sumenep that doesn’t believe children should stop studying simply because of marriage.

The Mambaul Ulum Institute has a total of about 200 students. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

The institution admits not just boys who are married but girls as well.

“They can study here on the condition that they are not pregnant. What happens then if they become pregnant? Well, we exempt them until they give birth,” said Fathol Haliq, founder of the Mambaul Ulum Foundation.

After a girl delivers her baby, she can come back to the school and complete earning her diploma, which she can then use to get a job in the event that she has an opportunity to work.

“We are providing them with an alternative means of education to empower them, so that they do not become victims of the cultural system that is deeply rooted in the practice,” Fathol added.

Founder of the Mambaul Ulum Institute, Fathol Haliq, speaks to a student. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani)

Over at Aqidah Usymuni, the efforts are slightly different, but the goals are the same – that a girl shouldn’t have to give up education over matrimony – but not every parent is comfortable with that idea.

“In Sumenep, everyone is afraid of remaining unmarried,” said Sumarni, whose daughter is a student at the school and recently turned 17 years old.

“By 17, girls themselves want to be married. I also have plans to marry my daughter off; I want to get her engaged, but Dewi Khalifah says my daughter is to continue studying at the boarding school, she can’t marry yet.”

Dewi took over managing the Islamic boarding school from her mother, who established the school to empower women. She explained that her mother was married off at 10 years old, and at that time the culture in Sumenep forbade women from obtaining an education.

Her mother sought to make a difference, and Dewi herself actively encourages her students to continue their studies and refrain from marrying as well, until they are at the very least 18 years of age.

Students who do get married receive support.

Aqidah Usymuni is the only Islamic boarding school in the entire regency which provides scholarships for children who marry, so that they may continue their education even after their nuptials.

Girls at Aqidah Usymuni make their way to class. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

The scholarship has greatly benefitted students like Ahmad Dardiri and his wife Misnama.

The two married young – he at 18 and her, at 16. The policy allows the couple to not only pursue their education, but to do it together.

“Traditionally in Madura, if you have to pay a fee to study and if you have to choose one between husband and wife, the husband is prioritised,” said Ahmad.

“A wife is still synonymous with the kitchen, you know; it’s only the husband who can continue his education, so we are breaking this ‘Madura culture’.”

Ladies with food baskets balancing on their heads carry supplies into the Aqidah Usymuni Islamic boarding school’s girl’s wing. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

Tradition dictates that a woman’s place is at home, caring for her husband and children.

Completely erasing the patriarchal culture painted in tradition isn’t possible, lamented Dewi, as there are a number of factors dictating its practice including economic conditions, which also influence how families conduct themselves.

“Because once a girl is married, she isn’t her family’s responsibility anymore,” said Ms Dewi.

The educational background of parents also matter, particularly if they come from lower-educated backgrounds.

“They feel that, ‘I got married as a child so why shouldn’t my child do the same?’” Dewi said. “It saddens my heart that they still enforce this practice on their children.”

STUDYING AS A SOLUTION

Reports published last year by the National Statistics Agency supported by UNICEF showed that women who were married between the ages of 15 and 19 had a lower level of school participation compared to those who weren’t married.

Indonesia has committed to achieving its Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, its aims include eliminating all harmful practices against girls and women including child marriage.

The report launched by the government of Indonesia and UNICEF showed that 12 per cent of women – 1.2 million – nationwide aged 20-24 years were married or in union before the age of 18 in 2015.

A group of married girls sit together at Mambaul Ulum Institute after speaking to Channel NewsAsia. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

Earlier this year, Marta Santos Pais, special representative of the UN Secretary General on Violence Against Children met with President Joko Widodo and several ministers at the State Palace in Jakarta.

Pais discussed children’s protection from violence and its role in national development, and raised the issue of child marriage.

Minister of Education and Culture, Muhadjir Effendy who was reportedly present at that meeting, explained that the government has a 12-year compulsory education programme in place.

He told reporters after the meeting that this was one way the government is trying to curb child marriage.

Effendy said the ideal age for someone to marry was above the age of 17 – this way, a boy or girl who completed the compulsory 12-year education programme would automatically be 18 years old.

Bringing the issue to public notice is one way to overcome it, but a more definitive solution would be to legally revise the rules of marriage and keep children in school for a longer period of time, according to observers.

“There should be local regulations governed by the executive and legislative branch that children should no longer marry at the age of 16 or 18; but at the very minimum, they should possess a college degree,” said Aqidah Usymuni’s Dewi.

Source: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asiapacific/in-indonesia-educating-child-brides-remains-a-tough-challenge-9488280

‘It’s tradition’: The child brides of Indonesia’s Sumenep Regency

SUMENEP REGENCY, Indonesia: Bold makeup in hues of red and black lined their eyes, hair adorned with buds of jasmine, a bejewelled golden plate rested upon their foreheads, while more gold complemented vibrant clothing cinched at their waists.

Their small hands were intricately lined with a type of dye resembling henna; and while they looked like miniature human dolls, their faces were glum.

Shifty-eyed, fidgety and trying to keep their nervousness in check, these are the child brides and grooms of Sumenep Regency at their wedding.

Both the brides and grooms have bold makeup on their faces. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

Getting to Sumenep is no easy feat. The regency is 170km away from Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city, on the island of Madura.

You’ll have to fly from Jakarta to Surabaya, which could take anywhere between 75 and 90 minutes and then embark on a four-hour drive; this is how we found ourselves driving into the regency one morning, passing dozens of salt farms along the way.

A RECEPTION TO REMEMBER

The children, six of them, were at their wedding reception being held at a field with a large tent in the district of Dungkek.

According to guests, the children had just married that morning – the oldest was a fourteen-year-old boy who married a 13-year-old; the youngest, a four-year-old child, was wed to a five-year-old boy, and the last couple were a pair of six-year-olds.

Parents of the brides and grooms took turns between standing at the entrance of the tent to welcome guests and accompany their children, who sat quietly on the sidelines of a feast held in their honour.

The youngest child at the wedding reception was a 4 year-old girl. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

Alimatus Sadya, a mother of one of the brides explained that child marriage is commonplace in Madura.

“If anyone asks for the hand of your first child in marriage, you have to agree,” she said.

Her daughter, the oldest bride at thirteen years old, lurched forward and retched as she struggled to keep her emotions at bay. She was quickly pacified by Ms Alimatus and others around her.

The space under the tent was divided into two sections, one for men and the other for women.

Plush velvet sofas with golden frames sat atop a stage on one end. This is where guests were taking photos with the newlyweds prior to the feast.

A 13-year old child bride attempts to hide her emotions at by the side of her stage at her wedding reception. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

A band positioned at the centre of the tent played traditional music and female dancers were putting on a show for the men, dancing closely with them while being showered with rupiah bills.

A group of men and women in each section were also huddled together as they made a note of every gift that the families of the children received, both of monetary and non-monetary value.

Another parent, Fitri, who goes by one name as many Indonesians do, explained that the children had been matched by their parents – her son and daughter had both been married off.

“Well, over here it’s like that, they’re married off at a young age; it’s tradition,” she said with a laugh. “I am so happy.”

EMBEDDED IN TRADITION

In 2016, the National Statistics Agency supported by UNICEF launched two reports on child marriage.

The report showed that the rate of child marriage in Indonesia remains high, with over one in four girls marrying before reaching adulthood.

Based on data from 2008 to 2015, the percentage of “ever-married” women aged 20 to 24 who married before the age of 18 across 33 provinces in Indonesia ranked by average prevalence, placed West Sulawesi in the top spot, while East Java ranked 14th.

Research done in June this year by an NGO, the Rumah Kita Bersama Foundation, showed that close to 70 per cent of the people in Madura’s Sumenep regency married before the age of 18.

The district of Dungkek had the highest number of child marriages in the regency, with about 80 per cent of its nearly 4,000 people – as per national population records in 2015 – having married as children.

Executive director for the foundation, Lies Marcoes Natsir, said that in Sumenep, it is usually because parents want a debt repaid.

“The people have a tradition, usually if they throw a party, they receive a lot of support from their neighbours – and this is a reciprocal occurrence, actually,” she explained.

Guests lay money on the floor for dancers at the wedding reception of the six children. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

“So, they can throw a party because other people owe them a debt. Now, this has been in practice for a very long time, their ancestors did this and they always make a note,” said Lies.

“So if one family has a child, and they feel they want to collect what is owed to them from their neighbours – to whom they have already provided some sort of support – ‘tumpangan’ is what they call it – they will organise the marriage of their child, even if the child is still little.”

According to Lies, one of Indonesia’s foremost experts in Islam and gender as well as a women’s rights activist, the goal is to collect a debt.

So, in the event of a drought for example, or in times of financial difficulty, families tend to get their children betrothed and organise a party.

A guest at the wedding reception showers a dancer with rupiah bills. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

In the case of younger children, the marriage is known as a “hanging betrothal”.

This arrangement means that while their marriage has been solemnised, they are “promised” to each other.

The children will only live together as husband and wife when they are deemed to be old enough by their parents to do so, which could be when they are as young as 14 years old.

Until then, the children live separately and continue their education, only for the “husband” to visit his “wife” during holidays and religious celebrations.

A SECRET AFFAIR

Fifteen-year-old Uus (not her real name) married her boyfriend last year when she was just 14. He was 19 at the time and he had asked her parents for her hand in marriage. The two had known each other for a year.

“We were only married by a religious teacher … compared to just being boyfriend and girlfriend, such an unclear status, it’s better to have something that is certain,” she said, a reason which resonated with several of the child brides Channel NewsAsia spoke to.

Traditional music accompanies the newlyweds as they ride out of the party compound on horses. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

Muslim marriages in Indonesia must be registered at the government’s Religious Affairs Office (KUA), something Uus and her husband have not done. This means that the two do not have a marriage certificate.

“We haven’t gone to the religious office; I’m not legal yet,” said Uus.

What the young couple have done is known as “nikah siri”, which translates to mean unregistered or secret marriages – this is highly prevalent in Sumenep.

Indonesia’s 2002 Law on Child Protection prohibits marriage under the age of 18 under any circumstances, and such a marriage cannot be registered at the Religious Affairs Office.

But the country’s marriage laws are murky. Under the 1974 Marriage Law, which sets the legal parameters for marriage in the country, parental consent is required for all marriages under the age of 21.

With parental consent, girls can legally marry at the minimum age of 16 and boys at 19, providing they obtain approval from the religious court.

Parents can also file a petition at the religious court or district court to apply for an exemption and get their daughter to marry even earlier, with no minimum age limit, pending an approval.

“Well, if possible, we approve their request if the bride is 16 years old, because they are already mentally mature, so I think it’s okay,” Risana Yulinda, head of the religious court in Sumenep Regency told Channel NewsAsia.

“But sometimes in the event that the child is two months, three months shy of turning 16, we’ll also approve the request because it’s just a little bit of time,”

With parental consent, girls can legally marry at the minimum age of 16 in Indonesia. (Photo: AFP/ STR) 

Applications to marry off children below the age of 16 years were assessed on a case-by-case basis, she said.

“Are they Muslims? Are there any obstacles to the relationship such as them being siblings? Is there a proposal from someone else? If they marry, is their husband ready to provide for them? Are they pregnant? These are all factors that we consider,” said Risana.

But anecdotal evidence suggests that many parents skip getting an approval from the court.

Instead, couples apply for a retroactive confirmation of the marriage when they reach an age deemed legal by Indonesian law.

According to Risana, couples generally apply for a retroactive confirmation when they need to get their paperwork in order.

For example, if they need to make a passport, or if they need to make a birth certificate for their child, these situations require a marriage certificate.

There were more than 200 couples in 2016 who applied for confirmation, she said. With no way for authorities to prove that they were children when the marriage took place, such loopholes only make underage marriages all the more difficult to tackle.

While tradition is a main factor for the practice, according to observers, religion plays a key role in its support.

“Religion has made it legitimate for members of the community to say that getting a child married is the right of the guardian, and when they get a child married, they base that right on the fact that the Prophet married Siti Aisyah when she was nine years old,” said Tatik Hidayati, a lecturer at the Anuqqayah Institute of Islamic Sciences.

“So they use that as a justification that Islam doesn’t forbid it.”

These factors only add to the age debate.

AN UPHILL BATTLE

Records from the National Statistics Agency shows that there were 554 couples who divorced in 2016. There were also 55 cases of underage marriage sentenced by the Religious Court of Sumenep in the same year.

Sumenep is about 170km from Surabaya, Indonesia’s second largest city. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

While there is no official data on whether the two overlap, or how many of the divorced couples married as children, authorities say the high divorce rate can be attributed to child marriage, and that they are working to tackle the issue through community engagement, by implementing various programmes.

“In fact in our planning programme, the most ideal age for women (to marry and bear children) is 21 years old, for men it is 25, which is the most ideal. According to their mental state, they are ready,” said Herman Poernomo, Head of Sumenep’s Empowerment of Women, Child Protection & Family Planning Office.

“If you marry your child off and he or she isn’t happy or prosperous, then what’s the point?” asked Herman, with the question he said he generally posed to parents wanting to marry off their children.

But many parents in Sumenep feel bound to the practice out of fear of their girls becoming so-called “spinsters”, a status attached to societal stigma.

Sumarni was married at the age of 13. While she has a daughter of her own now, she said her parents were worried that she would always remain single, which is why they arranged for her marriage.

“The first night (together) I didn’t know anything, I only knew how to cry.”

According to Sumarni, once a child is married, they become their husband’s responsibility, and this also motivates many parents to marry their children off.

There is also a general sense of concern among parents in the regency of their children spending time in close physical proximity with members of the opposite sex, sparking fears among parents who worry that it “could lead to something.”

Authorities have said that they cannot force parents who are accustomed to these traditions forego the practice, but what they have been trying to do is familiarise them with the consequences in an effort to approach the issue with sensitivity.

Marrying as children is detrimental from a health perspective as well, parents are told.

A mother sits with her newly-wed daughter on her lap. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

“A child who marries below the age of 15 and then gives birth, from a physical point of view it is not her time to give birth yet, so a woman’s reproductive organs are not ready for pregnancy,” said Hajah Kusmawati, head of health promotion at the regency’s health office.

She also cited the list of possible health conditions a pregnant child might go through in the course of giving birth, the extremity of which, is death.

“Abortion or the aborting of a baby because the child isn’t ready (to become a parent), internal bleeding, having a baby born underweight, then there’s also asphyxia, and a long labour.

“On the psychological front, the child is still a teenager, she will still wants to ‘have fun playing’; automatically, she won’t be optimal in taking care of a child she gave birth to,” Hajah said, adding that the parents or grandparents will take care of the child in such cases.

Data cited by the regency’s health office said that of about 69,200 teenagers in Sumenep, nine were pregnant in 2016, lower than the office’s 15-person estimate for the year.

According to Hajah, while children in the regency still got married, nowadays, they were likely to wait to before having children, at least until they turned 18 years old.

The health office, just like Sumenep’s Empowerment of Women, Child Protection & Family Planning Office, also engages the community with their programmes, which propagate healthy marriages at the age of 21 for girls, and 25 for boys.

In addition to their familiarisation programmes, the department provides counselling for children and parents as well, including having a dialogue with those who attempt to legitimise the practice by bringing religion into the matter.

Despite these programmes, the regency’s authorities emphasised that the country’s conflicting marital laws are an obstacle in their efforts. According to them, the onus is on the central government to revise the rules.

MOUNTING PRESSURE

Religious teachers have always played a key role in advising members of the community on traditional practices.

“Some traditions need to be upheld while others, child marriage among them, don’t,” stressed K Safraji, head of the Majelis Ulama Indonesia (MUI) in Sumenep regency, or the Indonesian Ulema Council, Indonesia’s highest clerical body.

K Safraji, head of the Indonesian Ulema Council in Sumenep regency walks by a group of boys sitting at a mosque after school. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

In 2015, Indonesia’s Constitutional Court rejected an application to raise the marriageable age for girls from 16 to 18 years, on the grounds that raising the marriageable age would not guarantee a reduction in divorce rates nor would it solve health and social problems.

But, in a landmark moment, female clerics this year urged the government to do just that. They issued an unprecedented fatwa or edict against child marriage after a three-day congress held in Cirebon, West Java province.

While an edict is non-binding, it is influential – and serves as a guideline for Muslims to practice their faith according to the local context.

Earlier this year, the government also said that it would seek the help of male clerics, who deliver Friday prayer sermons in mosques to campaign against the practice of child marriage.

In Sumenep, these movements have begun but haven’t made much progress yet, with majority of the clerics in there unaware of the efforts.

“So far, no one from the government has come to familiarise us with these efforts yet to prevent child marriage,” said Lestariyadi, a cleric and head of the Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s biggest Muslim organisation, for Sumenep’s Batang-Batang district.

He added that he was optimistic about a positive change, at least for Sumenep’s children, if authorities spread word about the programme and got everyone on board to carry it out.

Indonesian Ulema Council Head, K Safraji said they had already begun engaging the community to spread awareness on the problem.

The Indonesian government said that it would seek the help of male clerics, who deliver Friday prayer sermons in mosques to campaign against the practice of child marriage. (Photo: AFP/ Juni Kriswanto) 

The Council also implemented a strict vetting process when families approached them to get their children married he said, being sure to ask questions about age, and whether the couple had gone to the Religious Affairs Office to register their marriage.

One problem he said which still occurs and which they are trying to tackle is the manipulation of data.

“Just sometimes, there is some manipulation done by the parents, where they will tell the Office that a child is say already 16 years old, when in reality, he or she is just 11,” he said.

COMMITTING TO A SUSTAINABLE GOAL

Indonesia has committed to achieving its Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, its aims include eliminating all harmful practices against girls and women including child marriage.

But the Indonesian Coalition to End Child Marriage (18+ Coalition) in November issued a statement saying there had been no significant decrease in the number of child marriage rates in the past eight years.

The group cited data from the National Statistics Agency which showed child marriage rates were 27.4 per cent in 2008, and while they declined to 22.8 per cent in 2015, the rates went up to 25.7 per cent in 2017.

The group has accused the government of failing to commit to its goal.

“This indicates that the alleviation of child in marriage Indonesia has suffered a setback,” the group said in its press release.

Indonesia is ranked 37 on the global child marriage index and is the second highest in Southeast Asia after Cambodia.

With statistics like these, Lies Marcoes Natsir of the Rumah Kita Bersama Foundation said the situation concerning child marriage had reached a “critical” phase – at “emergency” level.

But while the problem is multi-layered, Lies is optimistic that the issue can make headway on certain conditions which should be addressed ahead of others.

“There are two conditions that I believe should be addressed immediately. The first one, is the state’s willingness to explore the possibility of reproduction and sexual education,” she said.

Pregnancy is also one of the reasons children are forced to marry she explained.

“We conducted research in 2014-2015 in nine regencies across five provinces, and we found that out of 52 children who were married, 36 among them got married because they were pregnant, pregnant and underage.”

In this context, the Religious Affairs Office (KUA) and the Religious Court fall under pressure from parents.

According to Lies, if the Religious Affairs Office declines to approve their marriage, parents would then go to the village branch and marry off their children without officially registering them, or, they would manipulate data such as the date of births and make the marriage happen.

The second issue according to Lies has to do with mindset.

“I believe is that if the child is already pregnant, what should be done – the child has two choices – either abortion or to bring the pregnancy to full term without having to marry.”

Lies went on to explain that the government must be brave enough to be able to tell people not to punish the baby or the mother, whether for being illegitimate or having so-called “bad morals”.

“If the government or all of us can be open and honest about these facts, then there is hope,” she said.

“But if this is not carried out, even if there is a national effort, or a coalition among the ministries, but they do not want to be open about sexuality, then it will be very difficult.”

Source: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asiapacific/it-s-tradition-the-child-brides-of-indonesia-sumenep-regency-9478014

Rebuilding ties with Islamic leaders needed for FP revitalization

 

JAKARTA, Indonesia, 27 March 2017: The active role of various elements of the society, including Islamic leaders has contributed meaningfully to Indonesia’s success in promoting family planning (FP) in the past, resulting in improved maternal and child health, better wellbeing and welfare of families and nation. Rebuilding ties with Islamic leaders is needed to revitalize FP.

 

UNFPA and the National Population and Family Planning Board (BKKN) provided support to Rumah KitaB, a foundation for Islamic research, to conduct a study on FP in Islam. The findings will be used for the development of FP advocacy, based on Islamic values, with active involvement of Islamic leaders throughout Indonesia. The study revealed opinions of prominent religious leaders in Indonesia, backed by Islamic teachings, stressing, among others, that:

– FP programme is very relevant today and need to be continued;

– FP is not a product of Western countries;

– FP does not alter/tamper with Allah’s creation; and

– FP is part of women’s right to have control over their bodies by allowing them to decide when to get pregnant and how many children to have.

 

“Hopefully, this study would assist in identifying strategies and evidence-based arguments to advocate about the importance of family planning, for the health of women and children and for a good quality of life for the family,” said UNFPA Representative Dr. Annette Sachs Robertson.

 

Head of BKKBN, Dr. Surya Chandra Surapaty, said that the country should not forget its past success as it proved that FP is essential for family resilience and contributes to building healthy and competent younger generation, which is necessary for national development.

 

For its past success in FP, Indonesia was awarded with the UN population award in 1989. However, recently, FP-related achievements, such as total fertility rate, unmet need and contraceptive prevalence rate have stagnated.

 

Population observers and activists have joined voices with BKKBN, calling on national and subnational government, civil society organizations, including Islamic leaders to renew commitment to FP and mobilize their active role for enhanced community engagement in FP.

 

Source: http://indonesia.unfpa.org/en/news/rebuilding-ties-islamic-leaders-needed-fp-revitalization

Australian Ambassador for Women and Girls Visits Indonesia

Media Release

30 October 2017

Australia’s Ambassador for Women and Girls, Dr Sharman Stone has begun her first visit to Indonesia since taking up the post earlier this year.

In Jakarta Dr Stone will meet Minister for Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Professor Yohana Yembise, members of parliament, prominent Indonesian women business leaders, community groups and Australian alumni.

The discussions are expected to focus on health issues, support for migrant workers and empowering women in small business. During her time in Jakarta she will also visit a women’s cooperative in Tangerang which is supported by Australia through the Peduli program. The cooperative enables women to become involved in local government decision-making and assists them set up small businesses.

Dr Stone will also join ASEAN Ambassadors to discuss the role of women in enhancing regional security and prosperity.

On 1 November Dr Stone will travel to Makassar, South Sulawesi to meet with Islamic women leaders and regional government representatives.

In South Sulawesi Dr Stone will visit communities campaigning to end early and forced marriages for young girls through the Australia Indonesia Partnership for Justice’s programs. She will also meet women’s groups and local government partners working to promote women’s health services and legal recognition through identity documents – programs delivered through Empowering Indonesian Women for Poverty Reduction (MAMPU) and Governance for Growth (KOMPAK).

Australian Ambassador to Indonesia, Paul Grigson, said this week’s visit would be a valuable opportunity to discuss how Australia and Indonesia can continue to work together to help women and their families access key services and participate in the economy.

Australia works closely with the Government of Indonesia to promote women in leadership, women’s economic empowerment and ending violence against women.  Gender equality is central to economic and human development and a fundamental right. It helps to address the root causes of instability and conflict, drives economic growth, reduces poverty and builds resilience.

Source: http://indonesia.embassy.gov.au/jakt/MR17_076.html