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.