Kindergarten contest behind promotion of intolerance

In addition to the severe New Year floods, we were also shocked by a viral video of girl and boy scouts. Their yells included: “Islam-Islam yes, kafir-kafir no”. For Jakartans, the scene from Yogyakarta harked back to the 2017 gubernatorial election, in which incumbent and candidate Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama was denounced as a kafir (infidel).

Yet such expressions and teaching of intolerance have entered the core of disciplinary education starting at preschool level. This article departs from research on religious disciplinary education at the level of early childhood education (PAUD), which includes kindergarten (TK), PAUD equivalent units (SPS), Raudhatul Athfal (Islamic kindergarten under the Religious Affairs Ministry), and Islamic integrated kindergarten, conducted on and off from 2013 to 2019. This study shows how the imposition of religious discipline leads to education that promotes intolerance.

Although preschool education has not always aimed to instill religious discipline, this research finds a strong tendency that preschool institutions are being relied on as a place to instill religious teachings or worship and also as a means to exercise moral control. The scope of religious discipline and moral control in these preschool institutions is very broad, from introducing basic skills, such as reciting short daily prayers before eating or sleeping, memorizing short Quranic verses, to other basic teachings on Muslims’ obligations including emphasis on the values of monotheism (tauhid).

In the teaching of tauhid we found content with teachings and expressions of intolerance, exclusiveness and even hints of violence against groups with other beliefs or kafir.

Discipline is instilled through routine learning and motoric activities in movement, songs or the introduction of vocabulary. For example, the song “Aku Anak Soleh” (I am a pious child) contains the phrase “Cinta Islam sampai mati” (Love Islam until death), accompanied by crossing one’s arm at the neck — imitating a knife or a sword cutting one’s throat.

Compared with studies on the encroachment of radicalism in junior and high schools and universities, little attention has been paid to teaching with intolerant or violent content in preschool educational institutions. Generally it is assumed that radicalization is a process of instilling an ideology, which requires a process of thinking and awareness raising, while preschool instills discipline through habit formation.

Michel Foucault, in his famous book Discipline and Punishment, observed that discipline is closely associated with power which controls its objects through an all-seeing telescope, the “panopticon”, and by normalizing moral evaluations. In preschool education, religious discipline and moral control are not done through military-style hierarchical observation as per Foucault’s theory, but rather through a collective will to strengthen the “fortress of faith” in children starting at an early age.

In our case this collective will is based on the belief that the Muslim community faces moral threats that would even impact the community’s economy, threats caused by “social deviations” such as juvenile delinquency, promiscuity, drugs and “deviating” sexual and gender expressions.

The cause of these deviations is considered to be weakening of belief and lack of religious teaching. The solution is “social renovation”, starting as early as possible, through preschool education and religious discipline with various teaching methods, ranging from playing to memorizing.

This collective will now function as a giant panopticon, in which society becomes an engine for control through religious and moral discipline in preschool educational institutions.

The most obvious forms of moral discipline are the ways girls are taught to dress and to behave, as well as threats related to unbelievers.

The mechanism of this disciplinary control is very simple: using financial threats. The survival of a preschool educational institution depends entirely on community funding. And the more students, the larger state subsidy received.

Actually preschool educational institutions are businesses. The competition for students encourages their operators to follow parents’ desires and expectations, including to strengthen the “fortress of faith”, as well as children’s readiness to start primary school with basic reading, writing and arithmetic abilities.

Religious discipline, as Foucault conveys, is used as a community’s means of surveillance and control to monitor the extent to which religious teachings are applied in an educational institution.

Thus teachings of intolerance easily enter the class, no longer through a side door as in high school, or through extracurricular activities such as Islamic spirituality sessions, but directly through the front door.

This is because control by parents who want their children to master basic religious learning can be fulfilled by groups promoting anti-tolerance, which offer religious discipline in teaching material. This encourages preschool educational institutions — even those not under religious auspices — to adopt learning material developed by intolerant educational institutions, so that their schools do not lose students.

The development of social/political Islam and the growth of religious identity politics in Indonesia has significant influence on teaching material content in Islamic preschools. This can be seen from the themes of the learning material, as reflected for instance in the songs and motoric activities of the children. Changing trends in religious life at the family level, along with parents’ expectations regarding religious education in preschool institutions, have led to more intensive religious educational content in preschools.

Meanwhile, the state’s policy which places preschool as educational institutions established on the community’s initiative, plus the limited knowledge of most preschool operators and teachers — who were largely born since the Reform Era and thus grew up in an atmosphere of Islam as identity politics — have contributed to a steady rise in intolerance in the country’s preschool religious education.

As intolerance today is found even in Indonesia’s educational institutions, solutions must go beyond penalties or guidance to the troubled institutions.

Mainstreaming tolerance must be the solution but not by imposing the Pancasila state ideology as in the past. Forcing an ideology may have closed opportunities for genuine, open discussions in which differences are accepted without friction and conflict. We have instead become more intolerant because the state had forced its view on what tolerance is and how to express it.

Today we’re seeing the fruit of settling past differences through banning all expressions regarding ethnicity, religion, race and other group characteristics for the sake of stability, without instilling in people how to healthily nurse differences, by fostering many safe spaces that reflect our plurality.


Director of Rumah KitaB, a research institute for policy advocacy for the rights of the marginalized.



10 ways the world got closer to ending child marriage in the last 10 years

Every year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18. That’s nearly one girl every three seconds, forced to grow up too soon.

But we’ve seen some encouraging progress over the last ten years. Although we still have a long way to go to end the practice for good, UNICEF reported in 2018 that global rates of child marriage are declining, with 25 million child marriages averted over the last decade.

And the good news doesn’t end there.

Here are ten ways the world got closer to ending child marriage over the last ten years:

1. Over 1,000 organisations have united to end child marriage 

Since 2011, the Girls Not Brides partnership has grown from zero members to a global movement of over 1,300 organisations across the globe.

Our global partnership reached a milestone 1000 members. Members celebrate at the Girls Not Brides Global Meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Credit: Graham Crouch / Girls Not Brides.

That’s thousands of organisations and activists who are working around the clock for a world free of child marriage, where girls can exercise their rights and achieve their full potential.

Together we’re stronger. And together we’ll reduce the number of child brides.

2. Child marriage went from a taboo topic to a prominent world issue

At the beginning of the last decade, child marriage was a taboo subject that governments, world leaders and communities across the world didn’t talk about. Fast forward ten years and it’s a prominent issue on the global agenda and in the communities where child marriage is most prevalent.

In 2016, child marriage was embedded within the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They’re a set of ambitious and urgent goals and targets aimed at changing our world for the better.

Under Goal 5 – to achieve gender equality, Target 5.3 aims to “eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilations” by 2030. As a result, 193 countries have committed to end child marriage by 2030, changing the lives of vulnerable girls and women for the better.

3. Governments moved to raise the age of marriage

The past decade saw a number of governments raise the minimum age of marriage.

Norway approved a law banning child marriage, and set a global example. Tanzania’s Supreme Court declared child marriage unconstitutional, Malawi officially banned child marriage and Indonesia raised the minimum age that girls can marry from 16 to 19.

In Latin America, a number of governments raised the minimum age of marriage to 18 without exceptions: the Dominican Republic, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. In Mexico, 24 out of 33 states have now updated their legislation in line with federal laws.

And in the UK, a new bill has been proposed which will raise the minimum age of marriage to 18 without exceptions.

4. The first US states outlawed child marriage

In 2018, Delaware became the first US state to outlaw child marriage, followed shortly by New Jersey. And in 2019, the U.S. Virgin Islands legislature voted unanimously to end child marriage.

Fraidy Reiss, activist and founder of Unchained At Last, the only organisation dedicated to ending forced and child marriage in the US, even got a tattoo to celebrate the victory.

Photo: Susan Landman


5. Millions of dollars were made available for grassroots efforts to stop child marriage

In 2018, leading donors and philanthropists came together to launch the Girls First Fund.

The Fund champions local efforts to ensure all girls can live free from child marriage and reach their full potential. They support local organisations, particularly girl-, women- and youth-led groups that work with the most vulnerable girls, working tirelessly to prevent child marriage and advance girls’ rights.

These organisations focus on girls, families and communities because they are in the best position to create lasting, local change and address the causes of child marriage at their roots.

6. Women and girls fought the law, and won

In 2016, 31-year-old Rebeca Gyumi took on her country’s legal system, winning a landmark ruling to raise the age of child marriage for girls in Tanzania from 14 to 18.

She was awarded the 2018 Human Rights Prize by the United Nations in recognition of her contribution to girls’ rights. The announcement came shortly after the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted a third resolution on child, early, and forced marriage, which sets out the responsibilities of UN member states in ending child marriage.

Rebecca is just one of thousands of incredible girls rights activists who have made a difference for their peers, communities and countries.

7. Senior Islamic clerics issued a fatwa against child marriage 

A fatwa against child marriage and Female Genital Mutiliation was announced in Dakar in 2019. The Deputy Grand Imam of Al Azhar issued the fatwa. It specifically sets out that marriage under 18 for boys or girls is haram (forbidden).


Other religious leaders have also led the way in their communities. For example, in Ethiopia, leaders of the Orthodox Church declared that they will not preside over marriages where either spouse is under 18. And in Malawi and Zambia, chiefs, such as Chief Chamuka, have developed chiefdom by-laws outlawing child marriage.

8. 49 villages in India went ‘child marriage free’

In Rajasthan’s Thar Desert, many families are forced to marry their daughters off early. Poverty, social pressure and the lack of quality education all make it hard for girls to stay in school or seek a life beyond early marriage.

But norms are changing. Urmul Trust takes travelling music and puppet shows to villages across the Bikaner district, educating parents and children about child marriage. The puppet show highlights harmful effects of child marriage in a way that people of all ages can understand.

Villagers sign an oath against child marriage. Photo: Allison Sarah Joyce/Girls Not Brides

After the show, everyone takes an oath that they will keep their village child marriage free, before signing a banner which is then put up in the village to hold everyone accountable.

The campaign to make villages child marriage free has reached almost 200 villages in the Thar desert. Over 49 villages are currently free of child marriage.

9. 1,000 couples pledged their weddings to support girls 

Couples in the USA said ‘I DO’ to help girls to say ‘I DON’T’.


These couples registered their wedding registries with VOW, an initiative which gives couples and companies the power to help end child marriage — by donating a portion of profits from wedding registries and products to girls’ rights organisations.

10. Goats, chickens and bicycles stopped girls from becoming child brides

In Ethiopia and Tanzania, Population Council rewarded families who kept their daughters in school and out of marriage with goats or chickens.

Families who couldn’t afford their daughters’ education were pulling them out of school and often into marriage instead. As part of their Berhane Hewan programme, the organisation also gave girls school supplies and matched them with older female mentors.

And it worked! Girls in one village in Ethiopia were 90% less likely to be married than their peers whose families received goats and chickens.

40% of girls in Nepal become child brides and thousands don’t finish their high school education. But in the last few years, hundreds of girls have been given bicycles so they can travel quickly and safely to school.

Janaki Women’s Awareness Society runs the project to make girls’ journeys to school quicker and safer so they’re less likely to drop out of education and be left vulnerable to marriage. When the girls receive their bikes, their parents pledge to keep their daughters in school and to not marry them as children.

Shristi and Santamay ride their new bikes home. Photo: Girls Not Brides/Thom Pierce