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.


Q&A: What you need to know about sharia in Aceh

The latest news coming from Aceh is hardly comforting for foreign tourists and investors looking to spend their time and money in the province: A Christian couple were publicly flogged after being found guilty of using a children’s game for gambling, which is a crime under sharia.

Local officials claimed the Christians had the option of being prosecuted under the nation’s Criminal Code, but they willingly chose sharia. So they took eight and seven lashes in exchange for six and seven months’ imprisonment, respectively.

Human rights activists doubt such a claim, saying non-Muslim offenders are mostly deprived of legal assistance and thus pressured to be tried under sharia.

The news about the flogging of the couple, identified as David Silitonga, 61, and Tjia Nyu Hwa, 45, is by no means the first of its kind. At least five non-Muslims in Aceh have been caned for breaching Aceh’s jinayat (Islamic criminal law), which was fully implemented about three years ago.

Sharia in Aceh has been controversial ever since it was first introduced shortly after the downfall of Soeharto in 1998, when Jakarta was struggling to cope with an armed insurgency there. But what type of sharia is implemented in Aceh? And how does a sharia-based legal system work there?

Below are a few things you need to know about the legal system.

Terpidana pelanggar hukum Syariat Islam menjalani uqubat (hukuman) cambuk di Banda Aceh, Aceh, Senin (11/9). Mahkamah syariah Kota Banda Aceh menvonis 10 hingga 28 kali cambuk dengan menggunakan rotan setelah dipotong masa tahanan karena melanggar Qanun (peraturan daerah) Nomor 6/2014 tentang hukum jinayat. (Antara/Irwansyah Putra)

When did Aceh implement sharia, and why?

Aceh was once a major Islamic sultanate in Southeast Asia. Islamic values, therefore, are incorporated in Aceh’s hukum adat (customary law). The history of sharia in modern Aceh, however, goes back to the early days of the Reform Era, when Jakarta decided to grant the province a special status.

The conventional wisdom is that sharia in Aceh was a concession given by Jakarta under former president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid” to Acehnese leaders to weaken the armed insurgency led by the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).

It is no surprise that GAM leaders initially rejected the formalization of sharia on the grounds that Islam has long been an integral part of Aceh’s culture, and that their struggle was driven more by political grievances than religious zeal. Only after a peace agreement was signed by Jakarta and GAM leaders in Helsinki, Finland, in 2005 did GAM accept the implementation of sharia law.

For GAM, sharia in Aceh was a gift from Jakarta, served on a silver platter for the Acehnese people. “The gift [of sharia] was placed at our parliament’s door,” Malik Mahmud, a former GAM prime minister, told BBC Indonesia.

Under the 1999 law on Aceh’s status as a special region, coupled with the 2001 law on special autonomy for Aceh and Papua, Aceh was the only region in the country given the authority to formally implement sharia law.

However, only in 2003 did Aceh formally introduce sharia as the law of the land through the enactment of three bylaws banning the consumption of alcohol, gambling and khalwat (dating in secluded places).

A year earlier, Aceh established Dinas Syariat Islam (Sharia Agency). The agency is tasked with coordinating three core sharia institutions: Mahkamah Syariah (Sharia Courts), Majelis Permusyawaratan Ulama (Ulema Consultation Council) and the Wilayatul Hisba (Sharia Police).

In 2009, Aceh’s councillors enacted their first fully pledged qanun jinayat, which included new jarimah (crimes) such as adultery and homosexuality. The bylaw stipulated that adulterers could be sentenced to death by stoning. In 2014, the councillors revised the 2009 jinayat, scrapping the provision on stoning.

The 2014 jinayat took effect in October 2015.

Helsinki Cathedral, also known as the St. Nicholas Cathedral, is a distinctive landmark of the Finland’s capital. The historic Helsinki Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the government of Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) was signed on Aug. 15, 2005 in Helsinki. (Shutterstock/File)

What is khalwat? And how harsh is Aceh’s sharia law? 

It is a crime for a man and a woman who are not married to be in a secluded place together in Aceh. This is called khalwat and it is punishable by up to nine lashes, a fine of 150 grams of gold or 15 months’ imprisonment.

Alongside khalwat, maysir (gambling) and khamar (consuming alcohol) are also illegal under sharia.

Under the 2014 jinayat, zina (adultery and pre-marital sex), liwath (gay sex), musahaqah (lesbianism) and qadzaf (falsely accusing other people of adultery) are also classified as crimes. Those found guilty of such crimes could face up to 100 lashes or 1,000 grams of gold or 100 months in prison.

In countries where sharia is the law of the land such as Saudi Arabia and Brunei Darussalam, adultery and homosexuality are punishable by death.

According to historian Michel Feener, who has conducted extensive research on Aceh, the implementation of sharia was never driven by a “nostalgic utopian yearning for a return to seventh-century Arabia”.

In his 2013 paper, “Social Engineering Through Sharia: Islamic Law and State-Directed Da’wa in Contemporary Aceh”, Feener argues that sharia in Aceh is more of a “social engineering” attempt to rebuild Aceh following the Indonesian Military-GAM conflict and the 2004 tsunami that hit the region.

To support his argument, he cited the fact that only a few jinayat cases were handled by sharia courts each year. The Sharia Agency, he said, dakwah (campaigned) more than it focused on law enforcement. His study, however, did not examine the implementation of sharia after the enactment of the 2014 jinayat.

Does Aceh’s sharia apply to non-Muslims?

It does, but only for crimes that are not regulated under the Criminal Code such as khalwat, premarital sex or homosexuality. Non-Muslim offenders, however, could be prosecuted under sharia if they are willing to do so (the legal term for this is menundukan diri, which loosely translates to “submitting”).

Female dancers – who perform the Bines dance, a traditional dance from Gayo, Aceh –take a selfie during the event. JP/Hotli Simanjuntak (JP/Hotli Simanjuntak)

Is Aceh’s sharia legal? And can it be repealed?

Aceh’s lawmakers believe it is legal, as the 2001 law on Aceh’s autonomy and the 2006 law on Aceh’s administration, they claim, clearly gives the province the authority to devise its own legislation.

But human rights activists disagree, saying the bylaws enacted by Aceh’s council should not contradict the 1945 Constitution and national laws. They argue that the caning punishment goes against the 1999 law on human rights and the UN convention on torture, which Indonesia has ratified.

The adultery provision in jinayat, they say, overlaps with the morality provisions in the Criminal Code, which are also considered discriminatory. In many cases, the morality articles in jinayat tend to victimize women.

Activists grouped under the Civil Society Network for the Advocacy of Qanun Jinayat called on the government to review the Islamic bylaw and repeal it for going against the higher laws. But the Home Ministry said in 2015 that under the 2006 law on Aceh’s administration, it did not have the authority to do so and asked the activists to bring their fight to the Supreme Court.

The Institute for Criminal Justice Reform and the Solidarity for Women activist group have taken up the challenge by filing a judicial review request against jinayat at the Surpreme Court. The court, however, has suspended its examination as the House of Representatives is still deliberating revisions of the Criminal Code.

The House has said that it will pass the Criminal Code bill into law soon. The bill reportedly includes provisions criminalizing pre-marital sex and homosexuality. It is unclear how the new Criminal Code, which has become more like jinayat, will affect the implementation of jinayat. (srs/ahw)


International Women’s Day: Inspiring Activists & Their Call for Equality

Today we celebrate International Women’s Day with a look at seven women’s rights activists and their tireless work to achieve equality for all.

Today, in celebration of International Women’s Day, people are being asked to: “Call on the masses or call on yourself to help forge a better working world—a more inclusive, gender equal world.” In honor of this, here’s a look at seven inspiring women and the work they did to create a more equal world.

Gloria Steinem

Gloria Steinem is a writer and advocate for women’s rights—she started Ms. magazine, co-founded the National Women’s Political Caucus and attended 1977’s National Women’s Conference. In 1970, she spoke to the Senate about the Equal Rights Amendment, saying, “I have been refused service in public restaurants, ordered out of public gathering places and turned away from apartment rentals. All for the clearly stated, sole reason that I am a woman.”

Today’s society is more equal and inclusive thanks in part to Steinem’s efforts (though despite her support, the ERA fell short of the number of states needed for ratification by its 1982 deadline). Work still has to be done for gender equality, but Steinem has hope for the future—as she noted in 2016, “I have seen profound changes and they help me have faith that they will continue.”

Reverend Addie Wyatt

Addie Wyatt, who worked in a meatpacking plant for years, understood the concerns of working women, and spent the better part of her union career trying to improve their lives. As a leader in the United Packinghouse Workers of America (she was the first African-American woman to become president of a local branch), Wyatt sought contracts that offered equal pay for equal work, and fought against on-the-job sexism and discrimination.

Increased representation and opportunities for women and minorities were another Wyatt initiative. And she pushed for more equitable treatment so women and minorities wouldn’t be the first to lose their jobs when layoffs hit. The impact of her work was recognized by Eleanor Roosevelt, who invited Wyatt to join the President’s Commission on the Status of Women in 1961. Wyatt also became a co-founder of the Coalition of Labor Union Women in 1974.

Betty Friedan

Betty Friedan‘s The Feminine Mystique (1963) told women they weren’t abnormal if they desired more than marriage, homemaking and caring for children—and the popular response to the book showed its author had hit a nerve. Friedan went on to fight for women’s rights by co-founding the National Women’s Political Caucus, the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (which became NARAL Pro-Choice America) and the National Organization for Women. As NOW’s first president, from 1966 to 1970, she organized the Women’s Strike for Equality, which took place on the 50th anniversary of women’s suffrage: August 26, 1970.

Friedan has received justifiable criticism for her focus on the needs of middle- and upper-class white women and her bigotry against homosexuality (she deemed lesbians a “Lavender Menace” to the feminist movement, a sentiment she later repudiated). However, she deserves credit for inspiring millions to demand more opportunity.

Estelle Griswold

The birth control pill was approved as a contraceptive by the FDA in 1960—but in Connecticut, it was illegal, thanks to an 1879 law that outlawed using all forms of contraception. In November 1961, Estelle Griswold, director of the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut, challenged this legislation by opening a birth control clinic in New Haven with Dr. C. Lee Buxton. By fighting for women to be able to control their fertility, Griswold wanted to give them more freedom to determine the course of their lives.

Griswold and Buxton’s convictions were upheld by Connecticut’s Supreme Court—but when lawyer Catherine Roraback appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, a 7-2 decision ended up throwing out Connecticut’s archaic law. Citing a right to privacy, Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) legalized birth control for all married couples. The same legal reasoning was used in the 1972 case that okayed contraceptive use for unmarried couples, and 1973’s Roe v. Wade gave women the right to terminate pregnancies.

Martha Griffiths

Martha Griffiths was an advocate for women throughout her time serving in the House of Representatives (1955 to 1974), but one of her most lasting accomplishments came during the fight for civil rights legislation in 1964. A conservative politician who opposed the proposed laws decided to introduce an amendment outlawing sex discrimination in employment—not because he wanted to support women, but because he felt it could stop the entire legislative process.

Griffiths waited for her colleague to speak, and for her fellow representatives to laugh at the idea of protecting women, then noted that their mirth demonstrated “that women were a second–class sex.” She also argued that without the amendment, women who didn’t fall into a protected category of race, color, religion or national origin would be left with no recourse against job discrimination. Her tactics worked—Title VII of the Civil Rights Act included sex as a protected category. It didn’t end employment discrimination—Griffiths herself would work to strengthen the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission established by the law—but it gave women a stronger foothold from which to demand better treatment in the workplace.

Florynce Kennedy

A Columbia-educated lawyer, Florynce Kennedy followed her own advice of: “Don’t agonize. Organize.” She also truly understood the power of attention-grabbing protests: in 1968, she participated in a picket of the Miss America pageant; five years later, she organized a “pee-in” at Harvard in order to highlight the lack of women’s bathroom facilities. A quick-witted speaker, Kennedy often appeared with Gloria Steinem.

Kennedy helped establish the National Women’s Political Caucus and the Coalition Against Racism and Sexism; in 1971, she founded the Feminist Party. When Shirley Chisholm made her barrier-breaking run to become the Democratic presidential candidate in 1972 (she was the first woman and the first African American to seek a major political party’s presidential nod), many women and male politicians of color backed other candidates. But Kennedy’s Feminist Party supported Chisholm, who won 152 delegates.

Dolores Huerta

Dolores Huerta was a founder, along with Cesar Chávez, of the National Farm Workers Association, which became United Farm Workers. Her accomplishments in this role included improved working conditions and wages, which made life easier for male and female workers alike. She also negotiated for equal wages for men and women, and encouraged women to take on jobs previously reserved for men. In addition, Huerta urged the union and Chávez to welcome women into leadership roles and involve them in decision-making.

Huerta, who’s referred to herself as a “born-again feminist,” has continued to fight for women’s rights as part of her organizing work. She took part in the Feminist Majority Foundation’s “Feminization of Power: 50/50 by the Year 2000” campaign to get more Latinas into public office. And on January 21, 2017, she was one of the millions who participated in a Women’s March.

Featured photo: An International Women’s Day March in 1977. (Photo: Fairfax Media/Fairfax Media via Getty Images)


Women’s March Returns to Fight Against Gender-Based Violence

Jakarta. Thousands of women and men will march through the streets of Indonesia’s capital to campaign against gender-based violence on Saturday’s (03/03) Women’s March.

The marchers are demanding the protection of the rights of women and other marginalized groups such as migrant workers, factory workers, domestic workers, indigenous people, people with HIV/AIDS, people with different gender identities and sexual orientations and people with disabilities.

According to a 2017 report from the National Commission on Violence Against Women’s (Komnas Perempuan), nearly 270,000 cases of violence against women – committed both in the home and in public – were reported last year.

Rights group Counting Dead Women Indonesia recorded 173 women were killed last year, 95 percent of them by their husbands, fathers or partners.

Komnas Perempuan commissioner Mariana Amiruddin said femicide, or murder of women on account of her gender, simply has to stop.

“Femicide happens because victims are not protected when their lives are most at risk, including in cases of domestic violence. It occurs because of the continuing strength of the patriarchy, that is, the domination of men in their power relations with women,” Mariana said.

The commissioner pointed out that the existing Domestic Violence Law (KDRT) still does not guarantee the protection of women.

“We demand that the government eradicate gender-based violence including those committed against people with different gender identities and sexual orientations at policy and legal levels,” she said.

WMJ 2018’s Demands

According to an official statement from the organizers of Women’s March Jakarta 2018 (WMJ 2018), this year’s march will also push for the ratification of the Elimination of Sexual Violence bill that has been stuck in parliament since 2016.

It will also protest against the discriminative revisions of the criminal code that contain articles outlawing “zina,” or adultery, and sharing of information on contraception and sexual education.

WMJ 2018 organizers have come up with a total of eight demands to be delivered to the government on Saturday.

The list of demands include eliminating violence against women, protecting female workers, assisting the recovery of victims of gender-based violence, eliminating discrimination and violence against women and eliminating stigma and discrimination based on gender, sexuality and health status.

The marchers will also demand not only the protection of but also legal aid and compensation for survivors of gender-based violence.


A series of pre-events have also been held prior to Saturday’s march.

Hollaback, an online initiative to end harassment against women, held a poster-making workshop in South Jakarta on Sunday.

Members of Rumah Faye, Jakarta Feminist Discussion Group, Lentera Indonesia, Do Something Indonesia and Naobun Project took part in it.

Many first-time marchers joined in, turning their thoughts and experiences on the life of women in Indonesia into colorful posters.

Metta Arya, a member of Rumah Faye and first-time marcher, said she’s joining the march to protest violence against children in Indonesia.

“Violence against children happens every day. It causes long-term damage to children and costs us a lot as a society. It’s time for us to pay more attention to it,” Metta said.

Women’s Marches Across Indonesia

Following the success of Women’s March Jakarta 2017, the sequel this year will be held in several cities across Indonesia: Bali, Kupang, Pontianak, Sumba, Bandung, Lampung, Salatiga, Surabaya, Yogyakarta, Malang, Serang and Tondano.

“We initially just wanted to invite people from other cities to come to Jakarta for the Women’s March. But the responses we got were overwhelming and so we decided to organize it in 13 other cities as well,” Women’s March 2018 deputy organizer Naila Rizki Zakiah said.

Women’s March Jakarta will focus on gender-based violence, and Naila said every city has the freedom to choose its own theme.

“Every city has its own unique issues. We’re not going to restrict them in any way,” Naila said.

Last year, WMJ attracted 400 marchers. This year, Naila said they expect to double that number.

“Looking at the overwhelming support and enthusiasm we’ve been getting, 800 sounds like a reasonable number. We hope it will be a huge success.”

WMJ 2018 will start from in front of the Sari Pan Pacific Hotel on Jalan Thamrin in Central Jakarta and finish at Aspiration Park in front of the State Palace.