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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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’.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
“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.
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.
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,”
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.
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 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.
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 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.”
South Asia correspondent
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, is determined that the perpetrators of the horrors committed against the Rohingya face justice.
He’s the head of the UN’s watchdog for human rights across the world, so his opinions carry weight.
It could go right to the top – he doesn’t rule out the possibility that civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the head of the armed forces Gen Aung Min Hlaing, could find themselves in the dock on genocide charges some time in the future.
Earlier this month, Mr Zeid told the UN Human Rights Council that the widespread and systematic nature of the persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar (also called Burma) meant that genocide could not be ruled out.
“Given the scale of the military operation, clearly these would have to be decisions taken at a high level,” said the high commissioner, when we met at the UN headquarters in Geneva for BBC Panorama.
That said, genocide is one of those words that gets bandied about a lot. It sounds terrible – the so-called “crime of crimes”. Very few people have ever been convicted of it.
The crime was defined after the Holocaust. Member countries of the newly founded United Nations signed a convention, defining genocide as acts committed with intent to destroy a particular group.
It is not Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein’s job to prove acts of genocide have been committed – only a court can do that. But he has called for an international criminal investigation into the perpetrators of what he has called the “shockingly brutal attacks” against the Muslim ethnic group who are mainly from northern Rakhine in Myanmar.
But the high commissioner recognised it would be a tough case to make: “For obvious reasons, if you’re planning to commit genocide you don’t commit it to paper and you don’t provide instructions.”
“The thresholds for proof are high,” he said. “But it wouldn’t surprise me in the future if a court were to make such a finding on the basis of what we see.”
By the beginning of December, nearly 650,000 Rohingya – around two thirds of the entire population – had fled Myanmar after a wave of attacks led by the army that began in late August.
Hundreds of villages were burned and thousands are reported to have been killed.
There is evidence of terrible atrocities being committed: massacres, murders and mass rapes – as I heard myself when I was in the refugee camps as this crisis began.
What clearly rankles the UN human rights chief is that he had urged Ms Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Myanmar, to take action to protect the Rohingya six months before the explosion of violence in August.
He said he spoke to her on the telephone when his office published a report in February documenting appalling atrocities committed during an episode of violence that began in October 2016.
“I appealed to her to bring these military operations to an end,” he told me. “I appealed to her emotional standing… to do whatever she could to bring this to a close, and to my great regret it did not seem to happen.”
Rohingya Muslims displaced from Tula Toli village in Rakhine State gave disturbing accounts
Ms Suu Kyi’s power over the army is limited, but Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein believes she should have done more to try and stop the military campaign.
He criticised her for failing to use the term “Rohingya”. “To strip their name from them is dehumanising to the point where you begin to believe that anything is possible,” he said – powerful language for a top UN official.
He thought Myanmar’s military was emboldened when the international community took no action against them after the violence in 2016. “I suppose that they then drew a conclusion that they could continue without fear,” he said.
“What we began to sense was that this was really well thought out and planned,” he told me.
The Myanmar government has said the military action was a response to terrorist attacks in August which killed 12 members of the security forces.
But BBC Panorama has gathered evidence that shows that preparations for the continued assault on the Rohingya began well before that.
We show that Myanmar had been training and arming local Buddhists. Within weeks of last year’s violence the government made an offer: “Every Rakhine national wishing to protect their state will have the chance to become part of the local armed police.”
“This was a decision made to effectively perpetrate atrocity crimes against the civilian population,” said Matthew Smith, chief executive of the human rights organisation Fortify Rights which has been investigating the build-up to this year’s violence.
That view is borne out by refugees in the vast camps in Myanmar who saw these volunteers in action, attacking their Rohingya neighbours and burning down their homes.
“They were just like the army, they had the same kind of weapons”, said Mohammed Rafique, who ran a successful business in Myanmar. “They were local boys, we knew them. When the army was burning our houses, torturing us, they were there.”
Who is burning down Rohingya villages?
Meanwhile the Rohingya were getting more vulnerable in other ways.
By the summer food shortages were widespread in north Rakhine – and the government tightened the screws. The programme has learnt that from mid-August the authorities had cut off virtually all food and other aid to north Rakhine.
And the army brought in reinforcements. On 10 August, two weeks before the militant attacks, it was reported that a battalion had been flown in.
The UN human rights representative for Myanmar was so concerned she issued a public warning, urging restraint from the Myanmar authorities.
But when Rohingya militants launched attacks on 30 police posts and an army base, the military response was huge, systematic and devastating.
Rohingya refugees tell the BBC of “house by house” killings
The BBC asked Aung San Suu Kyi and the head of the Myanmar armed forces for a response. But neither of them has replied.
Almost four months on from those attacks and Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein is concerned the repercussions of the violence are not yet over. He fears this “could just be the opening phases of something much worse”.
He worries jihadi groups could form in the huge refugee camps in Bangladesh and launch attacks in Myanmar, perhaps even targeting Buddhist temples. The result could be what he called a “confessional confrontation” – between Buddhists and Muslims.
It is a frightening thought, as the high commissioner acknowledged, but one he believes Myanmar isn’t taking seriously enough.
“I mean the stakes are so enormous,” he said. “This sort of flippant manner by which they respond to the serious concerns of the international community is really alarming.”
One of the challenges of BERDAYA program is that the purpose of this activity can contradict with religious and cultural fundamentalists who consider child marriage to be their domain.
Religious fundamentalism is both a religious as well as an ideology that believes that the best way to save people from destruction on earth is to “return to the basic dogma.” Methodologically they invite to return to the understanding of the text of Scripture (Qur’an and hadith). But its way of understanding uses the literalist basis. This literalist argumentation rejects the results of ijtihad and the classical law argumentation that have been codified by scholars who develop Islamic thought contextually for centuries through the process of culture-civilization to Islam in accordance with the times. This reinvigorated effort of textual teaching eliminates the essence of humanity within it. This literalist view makes the religious view stalled, static and consequently Islam evolving backward so that religious views become rigid and incapable of adapting to the modern age, this condition creates an antipathic view of the modern civilization itself.
Ideologically, this view of fundamentalism is one level below radicalism, while radicalism is a belief or action with the imposition of views and attitudes through violence and terrorism. Fundamentalism is the embryo of the birth of radicalism even to the level of terrorism if there is no process that prevents it. Cultural fundamentalism is also similar to the condition of religious fundamentalism, both of them refers to the basic guidelines of an ideology, one a religious ideology, while another is a cultural ideology. Cultural fundamentalism will give rise to a rigid and absolute view of treating traditions. Religious and cultural fundamentalism are equally harmful to women because they consider the existence of women to be a measure of change, so control over the women is important to keep their ideology. Child marriage is one of the things that they maintain because it is in accordance with the religious fundamentalism that is believed.
A five-year inquiry into child sexual abuse in Australia has released its final report, making more than 400 recommendations.
The royal commission uncovered harrowing evidence of sexual abuse within institutions, including churches, schools and sports clubs.
Since 2013, it has referred more than 2,500 allegations to authorities.
The final report, released on Friday, added 189 recommendations to 220 that had already been made public.
“Tens of thousands of children have been sexually abused in many Australian institutions. We will never know the true number,” the report said.
“It is not a case of a few ‘rotten apples’. Society’s major institutions have seriously failed.”
Religious ministers and school teachers were the most commonly reported perpetrators, the report said.
The scope of the inquiry
2559 allegations referred to police since the inquiry began in 2013
- 230 prosecutions have commenced
- 41,770 calls received from members of the public
- 60,000 survivors may be eligible for compensation, estimates say
The recommendations include:
- A nationally implemented strategy to prevent child sex abuse
- A system of preventative training for children in schools and early childhood centres
- A national office for child safety, overseen by a government minister
- Making it mandatory for more occupations, such as religious ministers, early childhood workers and registered psychologists, to report abuse.
The greatest number of alleged perpetrators and abused children were in Catholic institutions, the report said.
The commission had previously recommended that Catholic clerics should face criminal charges if they fail to report sexual abuse disclosed to them during confession.
Letters from survivors
The royal commission held more than 8,000 private sessions with victims and gathered about 1,300 written accounts.
After revealing their experiences, survivors were invited to write about the process of coming forward.
They have now been compiled in a book – “Message to Australia” – which was described by one lawyer as “too heavy to lift”.
The royal commission, Australia’s highest form of public inquiry, had been contacted by more than 15,000 people, including relatives and friends of abuse victims.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the commission had exposed “a national tragedy”.
“It is an outstanding exercise in love, and I thank the commissioners and those who have the courage to tell their stories – thank you very much,” he said on Friday.
By Fraidy Reiss
Fraidy Reiss is the founder/executive director of Unchained At Last, a nonprofit that helps women and girls in the United States to escape forced marriages, and works to end forced and child marriage in America. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
(CNN)People are looking in shocked disgust at the defenders of Roy Moore. How can so many Alabamans throw their support behind Moore, the Republican nominee for a United States Senate seat there, who is accused of pursuing or sexually abusing teens — including a 14 year-old — back when he was in his 30s? Moore denies the allegations, and is threatening to sue the Washington Post, where the report appeared last week.
Americans are appalled, unable to account for the bizarre responses of, for example, the state auditor, who likened Moore’s situation to the biblical story of Joseph and Mary, or the parade of citizen supporters defending Moore and doubting his accusers, or even an elementary school principal, who seemed to dismiss the allegations: “This all happened many years ago, correct? I honestly think we’re paying too much attention to it.” (She later said she didn’t mean for her comment to come out that way.)
How can such thinking persist anywhere in America in 2017? How can anyone not be horrified that a grown man could allegedly attempt sexual relations with a minor?
I must point out an awkward truth.
Child marriage — which often is legalized child rape — is happening at an alarming rate across the United States today. Clerks and judges openly give marriage licenses to adult men who are marrying young girls, granting the men a “get out of jail free” card that in many cases allows what would otherwise be against the law.
Moore’s alleged sexual encounters more than 30 years ago, as described by his accusers, were surreptitious, the actions of a man who knew he might get punished if he were caught. These adult husbands’ sexual encounters with child wives, on the other hand, are brazen, the actions of men who know they will not get punished because the government has sanctioned their misconduct and is complicit in it.
While most states set 18 as the marriage age, legal loopholes — such as judicial approval — in all 50 states allow marriage before 18. Laws in 25 states do not specify any minimum age for marriage.
Ironically, though Alabama’s child marriage laws are on their face abysmal, as they permit marriage before 18, they are relatively “strong” compared with other states across the nation: At least Alabama specifies that no child under 16 may marry.
In 2015, Unchained At Last — a nonprofit I founded in 2011 to fight forced marriage — collected marriage license data in the United States from 2000 to 2010, the time period for which the highest number of states had marriage age data available.
In just the 38 US states that track marriage ages, according to the available data, more than 167,000 children, some as young as 10, were married between 2000 and 2010. In all 50 states, Unchained At Last estimated that 248,000 children — or those under age 18 — were married in America in that decade. (Twelve states and Washington, DC, could not provide sufficient data on child marriage. For them, Unchained used a statistical model to estimate the number of children wed, based on the strong correlation Unchained identified between population and child marriage.)
Almost all the children married were girls wed to adult men, according to the data. In many cases, because of the age of the child or the spousal age difference, sex between the two would constitute statutory rape under that state’s laws.
This is happening in state after state, not only in Alabama. Since 1995, judges in my home state of New Jersey, for example, have handed marriage licenses to more than 105 men who instead should have been investigated for statutory rape under state law: The men were four or more years older than their child bride, who was between the ages of 13 and 15.
Horrifyingly, statutory rape within marriage is not considered a crime in many states. New Jersey is not one of those states. Thus, while those 105+ marriages are legal, every time those couples have sex, the husband could theoretically be charged with sexual assault.
Child marriage is an outrage not only when it legalizes or ignores statutory rape. Child marriage also is often forced marriage — imposed on minors who have little recourse. Before children become adults, which typically happens at age 18, they cannot easily leave home, enter a domestic violence shelter, retain an attorney or bring a legal action. They are nearly powerless to protect themselves if their parents or others try to force them into marriage.
I see the horrors of forced child marriage regularly through Unchained At Last. It means rape for the child on the wedding night and thereafter. It usually means the child is pulled out of middle school or high school, with all her or his hopes for the future destroyed. It means lifelong trauma.
Further, whether it is forced or not, child marriage devastates girls’ health, education and economic opportunities and significantly increases their risk of being beaten by their spouse. The US State Department considers marriage before 18 a “human rights abuse.”
Solving America’s child marriage problem should be simple. Every state can start by passing commonsense legislation I have helped to write to eliminate the archaic loopholes that permit marriage before 18, or before the age of adulthood, whichever is higher. Strong legislation to this effect is pending in Florida, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.
But the same legislation has failed recently in other states. Gov. Chris Christie conditionally vetoed the bill that passed with overwhelming, bipartisan support in New Jersey. New Hampshire legislators voted no, and Maryland legislators let the bill die, twice. Legislators in New York, Virginia, Texas and Connecticut passed weaker bills that still allow marriage before 18.
Sure, let’s be outraged about Moore’s alleged actions to prey on five teenage girls.
But let’s not forget the ongoing outrage of child marriage, happening legally right now in courthouses and clerks’ offices across America.