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.