Rumah KitaB and the Campaign Against Child Marriage

Kathryn Robinson
Emeritus professor in Anthropology, Australian National Univerisity

Rights in marriage have been a key issue for women’s rights activists all over the world. Age at marriage is perhaps the most significant issue, even more than the free choice of a spouse. Child marriage has been a focus for Indonesian women for nearly a century. In the colonial era, family law was left to the Islamic courts, but the women’s congresses that were held regularly from 1928 argued for secular laws that would protect women’s rights in marriage, including a ban on child marriage and the necessity of a woman’s consent. This emphasis on secular regulation as the way to protect women’s rights bore fruit in the independence period with the passage of the 1974 marriage law which, amongst other things, set a minimum age of marriage, of 16 for females (19 for males) and required that the marriage officiant ensure the woman’s consent.

As education becomes more readily available and more young women are going on to finish high school, and even tertiary education there has been a movement upwards in average age at marriage but as the work of Rumah Kitab shows us, child marriage persists. What are the strategies to address this? The session organized by Rumah KitaB at the Kongres Ulama Perempuan in April 2017 focused on the religious basis of arguments about age at marriage. The kiyai focused on textual analysis of the Qur’an and hadith to show the complexity of the definition of baliq, and the difference between a purely biological concept and a notion of aqil baligh, an idea of adult personhood. This interesting return to religious argumentation was a response to the intervention of MUI in a 2015 constitutional court court judicial review of the marriage law, in particular the regulation of age at marriage. The review had been requested by activists (including Rumah Kitab) on the basis of an argument that Indonesian law should be  harmonized with 2002 Law on Child Protection , which set 18 as the age of adulthood.. The weight given to the MUI submission by the secular court is an interesting cross over between religious and secular courts, which were unified into a single system in Indonesia during the Suharto regime. Rumah KitaB were developing a textually based  argument that could challenge the interpretation offered by MUI, which relied on a single text. Law reform is always an important part of social change. Legal reforms provide venues where people can argue for rights, but also are an important part of raising awareness and changing attitudes. For example, in a case of forced marriage that occurred in the community where I was doing research in the late 1970s, not long after the passage of the marriage law, a local official said to me that if the girl had come to him, he would have stopped the marriage. Talk is cheap’ and he was not put to the test but his comment shows the way in which changes on law begin to circulate and be spoken about, and so potentially impact on people’s behavior. What other ways can child marriage be challenged, and social practices changed? Marriage (and the subsequent state of parenthood) is in most communities the path out of a state of childhood to adulthood. Marriage resulted in the formation of a new conjugal unit and household. For those fortunate enough to pursue schooling, educational success and employment are also ‘building blocks’ of adulthood, and delayed age at marriage has no doubt contributed to the decline of marriages arranged by parents, as young people meet prospective spouses during education and in their work place.

Kathryn Robinson at KUPI

But these opportunities are unevenly spread throughout the archipelago. Especially in eastern Indonesia, schools beyond SD level can be a long way from home. And employment can be even harder to find. In such situations, marriage is the only avenue available young women to achieve adulthood, independence from their families of origin, and they often willingly enter into marriage at a young age . In such contexts, educational and employment opportunities are a critical part of solutions to early marriage. The globalized world we now live in is highly sexualized. Mass media exposes us all to narratives and images that challenge customary forms of morality. I have been shocked at the ready availability, indeed the difficulty of avoiding pornographic content in Indonesia, on social and other forms of media. There is a ‘moral panic’ in Indonesia about ‘pergaulan bebas’. In some research I  conducted few years ago, young people who themselves led innocent lives almost universally identified ‘pergaulan bebas’ as the biggest threat confronting Indonesia’s youth. In addition, prolonged education means many young people live away from home and outside the every day ‘control’ of parents, which can be of concern to parents and children alike. In this context, I understand that recent research by Rumah KitaB has shown that some parents see early marriage as the way to address this perceived risk. But it could also be argued that good sex education on schools and religious institutions, including empowering young people to make informed choices and evaluate risks associated with sexual activity—including health, emotional, social and economic risks— could counter this perceived threat in a more effective way than early marriage. But all of these strands are important legal reform and the empowerment of young women, in terms of their knowledge base but also the practical issues around alternative paths put of childhood. [Kathryn]


Involving family in the ‘theatre of martyrdom’: A conceivable imminent trend

By: Sylvia W. Laksmi

A deadly suicide bombing occurred in Indonesia last year. A family of six rocked three churches in Surabaya as suicide bombers including the youngest child who was only nine years old. The Santa Maria Roman Catholic Church, the Christian Church of Diponegoro and the City’s Pentecost Church were three places of which the Islamic State-inspired family launched their attacks by using a motorcycle and a car.

Because of this shocking incident, 44 people were wounded at the scene, and 13 people were killed, according to the police.

Experts might ignore the role of women involving in violent terrorism, but the attacks proved that mothers played a significant role in leading their kids into terrorist action. There is a cynical perspective even in modern communities that most women have more feminine outlooks than men so that people view women and children as victims rather than as active offenders. Therefore, terrorist groups like the Islamic State then propagate them with the new concept of jihad by engaging family members locally.

The involvement of women and children in the narrative of violent extremism is not new. Even among terrorist groups, they now modify their strategies to exploit women as their agents of movement, which includes committing them as suicide bombers. The decision to bring family members into terrorist action is one of rational parental choice from the family of Dita Oepriarto, the mastermind of Surabaya bombing attacks. They believe that by doing amaliyah (the term of jihadist for self-sacrifice action), God will give them the highest prestigious rewards in the afterlife. This is their justification for their horrific actions.

The family is the closest linkage of socialization which imparts the value of ideology within the society. Parents are the main components who influence the behavior of their children including to whom they become loyal throughout their life.

In the end, if the parents choose to act on beliefs rooted in a violent radical ideology, soon after that, some if not the whole family adopt a similar way of thinking within the society.

In the Philippines, there is a great tendency for applying this strategy among terrorist groups including The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA).

Over the years since the 1970s, the trend of recruiting youth and children by the CPP NPA has been increasing significantly. They target the educated young people studying the country’s top universities by teaching openly the principles of Marxism, Leninism, and Maoism in schools and colleges. It is identified that those children who joined were primarily from large, disadvantaged, and rural families in areas of limited economic and social services opportunity.

However, besides the extensiveness of extreme inequalities and lack of governance in the countryside area, CPP-NPA also empowers its human resource by sustaining cadres based on the lifeblood of the organization. The vetting process of preparing the next generation of CPP-NPA is conducted in three stages such as spotting, social investigation, and actual participation. It covers the process of enhancing knowledge of political views and activities including the efforts of engaging the family members with the government officials.

Finally, the organization would be able to spot potential recruits as the next generation or cadres of CPP-NPA.

Against the backdrop of terrorism growth in the world, recently, Philippines has become a new hotbed of martyrdom theatre by IS-inspired groups, while the fifty-year old CPP-NPA movement continues to strategically destroy Philippine society from within families and government agencies alike.

The way Indonesian jihadists justify suicide bombing as the most rewarding activity in the afterlife could also be possibly copied by terrorists in the Philippines. At certain stages, the recruitment pattern in the CPP-NPA groups is an alert for the next developed concept of self-devotion of what has been done in Indonesia.

The government should be more aware of these vulnerabilities by involving the community to support and stop the massive propaganda done by the CPP-NPA among the youth generation in the Philippines as well as empowering women to be agents of peace for family and society.

Sylvia W. Laksmi is a Researcher and Ph. D. Candidate at National Security College, the Australian National University.


Woman Qazi conducts marriage: A victory in women reclaiming spaces taken up by men

Although in Islam there is nothing that stops a woman from solemnising a nikah, the practice has been mostly limited to the male domain for centuries.

Amidst news of what women can and cannot do, and diktats on their right to religious freedom with regard to traditions and culture, a Muslim couple got their nikah solemnised by a woman Qazi earlier this month. This marks another victory in women reclaiming spaces that have just been taken up by men, irrespective of what religion has to say about it.

Maya and Shamaun, a couple based in Mumbai, got their nikah solemnised by Qazi Hakima Khatoon in Kolkata on January 5. A communications consultant by profession, Maya tells me that when a few years ago she read an article stating that a woman can also be a Qazi and solemnise a nikah, something that she was not aware of like most others because it is not common practice, she and Shamaun decided that their Qazi will be a woman.

Although in Islam there is nothing that stops a woman from solemnising a nikah, the practice is so uncommon that even locating a woman Qazi can be an impossible task. There have been earlier instances where a couple has asked a woman to carry out the nikah, but these instances are so rare and a woman Qazi so difficult to find that most nikahs, if not all, are conducted by men in Muslim families in India. Maya and her fiancé came across the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan’s (BMMA) website and saw that the movement had trained women Qazis in Quranic and constitutional rights. They got in touch with BMMA in 2017. When asked why they chose a woman to conduct the ceremony, the couple said ‘why not’.

Maya and Shamaun’s nikah marks a new beginning for women’s rights – an ordinary Muslim woman activist, who has, after undertaking a rigorous course on rights of women in the Quran and the Constitution, been invited by a regular couple to solemnise their wedding. A practice which has been mostly limited to the male domain for centuries. “It feels nice to give another woman a platform like this, which ideally should be easily available to her anyway. It has been empowering for her and me, both,” Maya tells me.

Qazi Hakima says she cannot explain in words what it has meant for her to be approached and to be able to successfully solemnise the nikah for the couple. She is also aware that as part of her duties as a Qazi she is responsible, under the training that she has taken, to ensure that there is proof of residence and age, and an affidavit from the groom stating that he is not previously married (the marriage is not polygamous). She has to make the couple go through the Nikahnama, fix the mehr (dower) amount and ensure that it is given at the time of the nikah, has to counsel the couple and ensure that the marriage is being carried out with their full consent. BMMA has trained 16 women Qazis in Maharashtra, MP, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Odisha.

Maya, who is half-Bengali and half-British, has a degree from the School of Oriental and African Studies, London. Owing to her belonging to a liberal household, both her family as well as her in-laws were very happy with the decision of the couple. Until the wedding happened and people started reaching out to them, they did not see their decision to choose a woman to solemnise their wedding as ‘a big deal’.

“The biggest challenge,” says Noorjehan Safia Niaz, co-founder of the BMMA, “is to get couples to come forward. We need more Mayas and Shamauns – the new age, modern, liberal Muslim men and women.”

Muslim women have long been denied rights which the Quran has guaranteed to them, because of the patriarchal norms set by society at large to keep them confined and subjugated. This is changing today when the ordinary Muslim woman is questioning the status quo and is not ready to accept customs and traditions being forced on her in the name of religion. Whether it is re-entering Haji Ali and demanding that religious spaces be easily available to all women, or fighting to ban instant triple talaq, Muslim women are the frontline warriors fighting their own battles.

Qazi Hakima and her like need to be supported so that more couples come forward to get their nikahs solemnised by them – where the mehr will not be a mere eyewash and never be asked to be forgiven, the couple will be made aware of their rights and responsibilities, underage marriages will not be solemnised, and the bride will get all her due rights as per the Quran.

Mariya Salim is a woman’s rights activist and researcher, and a member of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan. Views expressed are the author’s own.