How saying ‘I do’ can help millions of girls to say ‘I don’t’

(CNN)Every bride gets a little nervous on her wedding day. It’s a moment of intense anticipation, as friends and family gather to witness the beginning of a lifelong commitment. Thankfully, for most brides, it is a day of joy and beautiful memories.

But what if the bride is a 12-year-old girl? And instead of walking excitedly down the aisle, she is dragged into a secluded room to be married to a man she has never met?
We tend to think of a wedding as a happy, consensual occasion, but, according to UNICEF, for 12 million girls each year, marriage is rarely a matter of choice. Child marriages upend the lives of young women around the world, preventing them from attending school and severely limiting their future opportunities. Instead, child marriage puts them at great risk for early pregnancy and childbirth (and the associated health risks), as well as violence and poverty.
The costs of child marriage for these girls, and the world, are enormous. According to the World Bank and the International Center for Research on Women, failure to end child marriage by 2030 will cost developing countries hundreds of billions of dollars in loss of potential earnings by women and higher welfare costs. This is because child marriage is directly linked to higher fertility, poverty and poor health. Keeping girls in school, marrying later and having fewer children are key components of global poverty alleviation and development efforts.
Of course, in the United States, we think differently about what it costs to get married. Every year, Americans spend $100 billion to say “I do.” Weddings are a huge business — one that involves planners, designers, venues, travel companies, bakers and much more. It’s a jaw-dropping disparity, but perhaps one that can be leveraged to help us bridge the gap between child marriages and those entered into with support and ceremony.
Today, the wedding industry is coming together to give millions of girls the chance to say “I don’t.” In an incredible show of unity, sought-after brands like Crate and Barrel, The Knot, and Malia Mills are joining forces in an effort, called VOW, that enables couples and their loved ones to celebrate marriage in ways that also advance the empowerment of girls and their basic rights to health, education and equality.
When planning their wedding, couples who choose VOW products or list them on their registries will see part of the proceeds go toward ending child marriage. Guests can also donate directly to VOW, making it possible for weddings based on choice to help support girls for whom marriage is anything but.
Picture how a VOW centerpiece might put girls at the center of the conversation, by funding organizations that give them “a seat at the table.” Imagine how the gift of a couples’ retreat could help give girls the tools they need to realize their potential as young women.
That’s because all funds raised through VOW are directed to the Girls First Fund, which supports organizations working to end child marriage in Asia, Africa and Latin America by building women and girls’ collective power so they can make their own decision about when, whom and if to marry. These community-based organizations — including many led by women and girls who have escaped child marriages — use their unique expertise and insight to connect with girls, families, faith leaders and policymakers to provide vital services, help transform laws, policies and harmful social norms, and develop solutions.
Consider the traditional Malawi leaders I (van Oranje) have met, who work to convince men that child marriage keeps everyone in poverty, or the girls in Bangladesh who escaped violent marriages and today help teach parents about the benefits of educating their daughters. The Fund is grounded in the belief that girls have an essential role in designing and implementing the programs and policies that affect their lives.
Even a small fraction of the current spending on weddings would be transformative for people and organizations on the ground. By harnessing the positive power of consensual marriages, companies and couples can make an enormous difference in the lives of young women and girls around the world.
We know there is more work to be done. To extend the impact of this partnership, we’ll need more companies inside and outside the wedding industry, as well as more foundations and philanthropists, to participate.
And this kind of partnership has enormous potential — not just for addressing child marriage, but for disrupting global inequality. When companies, consumers, philanthropies, nonprofits and activists come together, we can unlock the vast resources necessary to confront our greatest global challenges.
Indeed, ending child marriage will not only eliminate a human rights violation — it will have significant ripple effects that improve gender equality, health, education, poverty alleviation and violence prevention everywhere.
Together, we can put an end to child marriage and ensure that every girl understands her rights, knows her worth and can be a force for freedom in her own life — and in the lives of everyone she knows. We can make sure the marriages we celebrate build a world where all girls are celebrated and all marriages are by choice.

Florida bans child marriage as it raises minimum age to 17

The bill was inspired by Sherry Johnson, who was forced to marry a church deacon aged 11


Florida has banned marriage for children under 17, after a campaign by a woman who was forced to marry her rapist when she was just 11-years-old.

Sherry Johnson watched from the gallery as the state legislature voted 109-1 to pass a bill removing exemptions allowing boys and girls of any age to marry if a pregnancy was involved.

“My heart is happy,” she said afterward. “My goal was to protect our children and I feel like my mission has been accomplished. This is not about me. I survived.”

Republican Governor Rick Scott has indicated he will sign the new bill after the House and Senate reached a compromise on its terms.

Florida currently allows children of any age to marry if a pregnancy is involved and a judge approves. Children aged 16 and 17 can marry with the consent or both sets of parents.

In one case a man in his 90s was able to marry a girl aged 16 or 17 and there were several cases of girls marrying men more than twice their age.

An analysis of state statistics revealed 1,828 marriage licenses involving a minor were issued between 2012 and 2016. They included one 13-year-old, seven 14-year-olds and 29 15-year-olds.

The new bill bans marriage for anyone under 17 and prevents 17 year-olds marrying people more than two years older and without parental consent.

The only person to vote against the bill, Republican Representative George Moraitis, had described current law as “very good”.

He added: “I don’t want the message to be that it’s better to not get married.”

After the bill was passed, Sherry Johnson was described as “the star” by a sponsor of the bill, Republican Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto.

Ms Johnson was nine when she was raped by a church deacon, 10 when she gave birth to his child and 11 when she got married to him 47 years ago.

She said her church pressured her mother to consent to the marriage and a judge approved it. Ms Johnson ended up having five more children with her husband before she broke free of the marriage.

“I feel the whole system failed me,” Johnson told CBS News. She said that “it would have changed my life” if the child marriage had been banned at the time.

“I would have been a single mother and I think would have done well,” she added.

Child marriage is a major issue in the US. Most states have a minimum age of 18 but every state has “loopholes” allowing unions if there is parental consent or pregnancy.

Last year it emerged that more than 200,000 children as young as 10 and 11 got married in the US between 2000 and 2015.

In the last two years Virginia, Texas, Kentucky and New York have all voted to ban or limit child marriage.



Andriantono, known by his nickname Andre, is one of the beneficiaries of the BERDAYA program for teenagers in Cilincing who managed to raise the issue of preventing child marriage through lenong, a Betawi traditional form of performing art. Attracted to lenong from an early age, Andre saw training materials to prevent child marriages as suitable for retelling in the form of Betawi drama.

Andre first acted in the theatre in 2010. He recalled that his friends at RW 06, Kalibaru, Cilincing, North Jakarta were surprised at his choice which was considered outdated.

Andre, who at that time was still attending secondary technical school, was really fond of acting. Outside of school, Andre often joined activities held by non-governmental organisations for performing arts and theatre, one of them with World Vision, a few years ago, in relation to Children’s Day and the Children’s Rights Campaign. Since then he has been enamoured of the world of art and performances, including lenong.

Andre’s theatre hobby continues even though now he works full time as a security officer at Tanjung Priok-Cilincing port. He routinely trains a small group of about 10 teenagers forming part of the ITACI network (Cilincing Theatre Association), He was accompanied by Jumadi who worked as an officer to load and unload the tent for neigborhood’s events. Like Andre, Jumadi began acting because of his love of music.

Attracting the interest of young people in arts and cultural activities in neighborhood unit (RW) 06 is not an easy matter. “Most of them lose interest in artistic activities because they prefer to hang out, use social media, or participate in football gangs,” Andre said. In agreement with Andre, Jumadi saw that actually local teenagers need positive activities. “During the recent fasting month many teenagers travelled around in groups at the time of sahur, leading to unrest and vandalism,” he added.

The incidence of adolescent promiscuity, which leads to child marriage, is well known to Andre, Jumadi, and Kalibaru residents. Economic stress and discomfort communicating with parents encourages some teenagers to spend time with peers without guidance. The accessibility of social media also influences their interactions. “People who have married young are not always with partners from this village. There are also those who have got to know people from outside [Kalibaru] via Facebook or chatting,” Andre said.

Based on the 2013 National Social Economic Survey (Susenas) data which was processed by the People’s Welfare Statistics, the number of girls in DKI Jakarta married under the age of 15, at 16 to 18, and at 19 to 24 years of age was 5.6, 20.13 and 50.08 percent respectively. With the high population in DKI, the number of child marriages is high.

The results of a study assessed in Kalibaru by Achmat Hilmi, Program Officer of Rumah Kita Bersama (Rumah KitaB), recorded that in 2017, as many as 20 percent of women giving birth at the Kalibaru Health Centre were children (under 18 years old). The assessment also noted that the causes of child marriage there included occurrence of unwanted pregnancies, parents’ concern about possible pregnancies, the culture/traditions prevailing in locations such as South Sulawesi, Riau, and West Java promoting marriage of underage children, the increase in the number of school dropouts then becoming unskilled labourers, as well as the incidence of a large number of people at all levels of society who are not yet aware of the dangers to girls of child marriage.

The opportunity for Andre to understand the issue of child marriage began when Haji Karim, Head of RW 06 Kalibaru Village, asked him to invite and assist several teenagers to take part in training on the prevention of child marriage for adolescents in Kalibaru, organised by Rumah KitaB and taking place from 29 June to 1 July 2018. This training focused on prevention of child marriages in three regions – Cilincing, Makassar, and Cirebon – for adolescents, parents, and formal and non-formal figures, and was supported by the Australia Indonesia Partnership for Justice 2 (AIPJ2).

Shortly after the training, Komar, the founder of ITACI, invited Andre to participate in the Lenong Festival competition organised by the Department of Tourism and Culture of DKI Jakarta Province. “I propose that we try displaying the theme of child marriage. The festival is also to commemorate the anniversary of the City of Jakarta which is celebrated every year while welcoming National Children’s Day.” The event was held on 16–20 July 2018, or exactly two weeks after the child marriage prevention training in Kalibaru. “Lenong is entertaining, so the message of prevention can be delivered in a light style,” said Andre about his strategy of socialising “Prevent Child Marriage” through lenong.

Andre and Komar then wrote the screenplay and trained about 10 teenagers as lenong actors. Introducing the theme of an arranged marriage for a girl in a family in Cilincing, the scenario inserted a lot of everyday fragments focusing on interactions between friends, parents and community leaders. “For example, there is the character of a girl who just graduated from junior high school and expresses her desire to rush into marriage. This indeed resembles the conversations of the Kalibaru children,” he added.

“In addition to the risk of child marriage, we also convey the message that as children, we can express views which are different from those of our parents without rebellion. Of course our reason is good, not just because we do not want to obey our parents,” explained Andre. Despite not winning the competition, ITACI and the Lenong Festival have brought together Cilincing teenagers to continue to create and spread the message to prevent child marriages.

Together with the BERDAYA Program, Andre and his friends, who are members of the small theatre in RW 06 and ITACI, will fill various advocacy activities to prevent child marriages. Among these are lenong and dance studio activities, counselling in schools for Kalibaru teenagers about the hazards and risks of marrying while still children, and in RW posts for teenagers dropping out of school. They are in the midst of initiating a campaign by putting up various creative images with the theme of the dangers of child marriages in various teenagers’ centres, including at locations where teens gather. [Hilmi/Mira]

Andre (middle) at lenong festival Jakarta


Uphill battle against child marriage

“If you like each other, the best thing to do is get married so you don’t commit a sin,” stated a married 16-year-old girl in Lamongan, East Java.

A married 17-year-old girl from the same city talked of her shattered dreams: “I thought when I got married, life would be more like I wanted it to be, but it isn’t ever going to be.”

In North Jakarta, a young mother of 15 said, “Of course we regret things, but we can’t change anything. The most important thing is that our kids don’t turn out like us.”

These are excerpts of consultations, jointly conducted by UNICEF and the Purposeful Productions movement focusing on adolescent girls. They aim to hear directly from girls, boys, women and men in Mamuju in West Sulawesi, North Jakarta, and Lamongan, East Java — three places with a high prevalence of child marriage — about why this practice continues and is so pervasive in Indonesia. The three girls are just a few of thousands of others trapped in early union.

Child marriage is common in almost all geographical pockets throughout Indonesia. Rates vary widely across the country and by level of government (province, regency and districts).

According to the 2012 National Socioeconomic Survey, West Sulawesi has the highest prevalence of child marriage at 37.3 percent, followed by Central Kalimantan and Central Sulawesi at 36.7 percent and 34.4 percent, respectively.

Child marriage is as complex as a spider web and has been haunting the lives and futures of Indonesia’s 85 million children. Ending this practice will be an uphill battle for Indonesia unless drastic changes in social behavior are made, with stronger political commitment and the strengthening of legal frameworks in children’s interests.

“This practice continues mostly on the grounds of cultural and religious norms,” said Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Minister Yohana S. Yembise in an interview with The Jakarta Post in conjunction with National Children’s Day, which fell on July 23.

Many Islamic clerics say girls are ready for marriage once they start menstruating, as the Quran does not mention a specific age, while other experts cite verses that indicate that both bride and bridegroom should be mature enough and capable of judgment.

Cultural arguments include parents’ embarrassment when their teenage daughters have no suitors.

Despite modern developments, including more girls having a higher level of education, around one in nine girls marry before the age of 18, making Indonesia one of the top countries in absolute numbers of child brides and the child marriage burden — with about 375 girls marrying daily. Reasons to marry young go deep beyond mutual love, religious and traditional values and socioeconomic condition.

“Child marriage is a fundamental violation of girls’ rights. The practice is largely driven by poverty, a lack of access to education and social norms rooted in the lower status of women and girls here in Indonesia,” the minister said, adding that it also contradicted Indonesia’s efforts to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Goal 5, which includes eliminating all harmful practices of early and forced marriage by 2030.

Child marriage has attracted significant global attention in the last decade in response to growing evidence on the scale and scope of the problem, and is now specifically targeted in the SDGs. For Indonesia, being slow and ineffective in addressing this critical issue will lead to the country’s failure to achieve the SDGs in under 15 years.

Indonesia has ratified the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child through the 2002 Child Protection Law. However, inconsistencies and contradictions remain, as Yohana noted.

“Special considerations need to be taken seriously concerning the contradictions” in the Child Protection Law and Marriage Law, she said. The ministry is organizing a public discussion involving academics, policymakers, members of civil society, religious leaders, women and youth organizations on the issue.

While the 2002 Child Protection Law defines a child as someone below 18, the age of consent to marriage is 16 years for girls and 19 years for boys according to Article 7 of the Marriage Law.

The ministry, she said, has proposed revising the Marriage Law to end cases of child marriage but without success. Probably reflecting on what she said was a “controversial” issue, amendment of the 1974 law was listed in the 2015-2019 legislation program, but not included on the 2018 priority list.

Worse yet, the Marriage Law allows exceptions to the minimum age subject to consent from an appropriate authority, leaving occasion for children to marry legally at an even younger age.

A research report by 18+Coalition and UNICEF, Revealing the Truth of Marriage Dispensation: An Analysis of Child Marriage Practice in Tuban, Bogor and Mamuju Districts ( 2016 ), reveals that the procedure for granting marriage dispensation requests in Indonesia enables multiple interpretations and loopholes.

The report states the marriage dispensation “is fraught with challenges and […] is incompatible with national and international child rights frameworks”.

To end child marriage requires strong political commitment from the country’s top leader. Recently, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo pledged to end child marriage amid mounting pressure.

Since child marriage in Indonesia remains a sensitive issue and is closely linked to religious and traditional norms, interfering with the Marriage Law could bear a political risk for President Jokowi or any other presidential candidates ahead of the 2019 presidential election. However, child marriage should not become a cheap bargaining chip for short-term political interests as it affects the lives of the country’s future generation.

While the focus on ending child marriage is on increasing the minimum age of marriage to 18 years, a broader set of corresponding laws and policies is needed to protect the rights of children and to prevent them from entering child marriage.

Every one of us must support young girls and boys to end this harmful practice so that all children have the right to choose when and whom to marry later in adulthood, and so they can complete their education to reach their utmost potential.

Parents, communities, traditional and religious leaders, the school system, the government, lawmakers and the media must work together in combating child marriage.

The government and lawmakers have the power to develop relevant legislation and policies, allocate available budget resources, monitor implementation and guarantee accountability.

To turn a blind eye to this problem is to endorse the damaging practice. Child marriage is not a child’s responsibility. It is our responsibility.

Child Pride, Not Bride

TEMPO.CO, Jakarta – The incident a few months ago still lingers in Fahri Ramadhan`s mind. At the time, Fahri and his friend, both still in their high school uniforms, stopped at a roadside stall to buy snacks.

Unexpectedly, Fahri ran into an elementary school friend. What ruined his mood was that his friend told him that she was at the stall to buy some infant formula. “Apparently she was already married and was buying milk for her kid,” said the 10th grader at the Kalukku State School I in Mamuju, West Sulawesi.

It was not Fahri’s first time running into a friend who had married at a very young age. According to the 16-year-old, some of his friends marry early because of their families’ finances. Their parents feel that they cannot afford to pay for their education. Meanwhile, the parents of their would-be husbands would then propose, offering panaik. Panaik, also known as panai, is the equivalent of “bride price” given by the parents of a would-be groom to the would-be bride’s family as a sign of serious intention. The amount varies, from over Rp10 million to hundreds of million rupiah.

Observing this phenomenon made Fahri restless, which is why he joined in the campaign to prevent child marriage. He learned about the campaign when a community called Lingkar Remaja (Teen Circle) held an event to raise awareness at a mosque near his home at the end of last year. Not only he felt the desire to fight against child marriage, Fahri joined the movement because he also hoped he would be able to positively contribute to society. “My grandfather once said, wherever I would one day go to school, no matter how many certificates I would receive, none of it would matter if I wasn’t yet benefiting the people around me,” said the teen.

The Lingkar Remaja is a community founded by the Karampuang Foundation, headquartered in Mamuju. The community brings young people together, and was formed to run an anti-child- marriage program.

After joining the Lingkar Remaja community early this year, Fahri says he has obtained plenty of new information, facts that were once neglected, including the causes and impacts of child marriage as well as some strategies for preventing it.

Fahri and other Lingkar Remaja members have organized plays and poetry readings on the theme of child marriage several times, at the Karampuang Foundation secretariat office. These events are usually attended by the community, including street vendors who sell snacks. Members of the community began asking questions about the negative impacts of child marriage and its effect on the reproductive health of adolescents.

To improve their campaign reach, Fahri and other Lingkar Remaja members would occasionally visit villages in Kalukku to distribute brochures on the fight against child marriage.


Syrian Child Brides Increasingly Contemplate Suicide

Salwa, a 14 year old girl, remembers chugging bleach for as long as she could. She ignored the burn as it went down her throat, and she tuned out the sound of gunshots outside her window.

But Salwa, a Syrian refugee, wasn’t trying to escape the Syrian war — she was trying to escape her forced marriage.

In Lebanon, nearly 40% of young Syrian refugee girls are being married off by impoverished families who erroneously believe that they are protecting their daughters against sexual assault. Often they are wedded off to much older men who rape and beat them if they refuse to sleep with them.

Such was Salwa’s case. Her drunk husband wanted to have sex, but Salwa said she would be right back. She left the room and tried to poison herself.


 “I returned to the bedroom and thought, this will be the last time,” said Salwa. “When I woke up the next morning, I said, ‘F*ck you, God.’”


The Times of Israel reports that this isn’t an isolated case:

Halima’s death certificate says she fell down the stairs. But according to SB Overseas — an NGO working with Syrian refugees across Lebanon, including Halima’s camp — the 13-year-old actually killed herself.

It started one night in October, when she ran away from her abusive husband at a refugee camp outside Beirut. She fled back to her family and asked if they’d help her divorce him. No way, was their answer, she had to stay with him. So, that night, Halima overdosed on pills.

SB Overseas has noticed how common suicide has become among child brides — and how often families lie about it.

“They cannot admit the decision they made led to this result,” said Veronica Lari, a former spokesperson for SB Overseas. “What happens often is girls disappear completely. We know it’s a consequence of the marriage, but we don’t have any data or news from her. And the family says they don’t know anything.”

Hasan Arfeh, a Syrian journalist, has even noticed the same trend in Syria.

“Parents know their daughter committed suicide, but in small communities in Syria, they hide the issue,” Arfeh said. “They feel ashamed of the community around them. They do not offer the body to the forensic doctor, claiming it is the body of a girl and they have the right not to show it.”

In Lebanon, Syrian girls face an uphill battle against forced marriage. There is no minimum age for marriage in the country as the government allows religious parties to decide. On top of this, martial rape is not criminalized.

Lebanon has also created a rule that Syrians can only work in temporary, low-paying sectors including agriculture, construction and cleaning. With families unable to provide for their children, many parents see marriage as a ticket out of poverty.

Monthly cash support from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is one saving grace, but its severely underfunded and only able to reach 13% of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

Until Syrian families find a way out of poverty, the trend of abused child brides turning to suicide will likely continue.

Child brides like Layla, a 16 year Syrian refugee threw herself into a river knowing she couldn’t swim. Her sister managed to save her.

“I thought, ‘I want to die. It’s better than living this miserable life,’” said Layla.


Profile of the BERDAYA Program’s Youth Activist: YUYUN KHAIRUN NISA

Her name is Yuyun Khairun Nisa. To those who know her, she is simply called Yuyun. Yuyun was one of the participants of the training for youth organized by the BERDAYA Program in Cirebon on the theme of “Strengthening Youth’s Capacity for Child Marriage Prevention” in late May 2018. During the event, Yuyun proved her commitment and enthusiasm in the theme discussed and, together with her peers, was declared to become one of the youth activists and pioneers who will speak against child marriage practices within their communities.

Yuyun was born 19 years ago in Indramayu, West Java, as the youngest child in the family. After completing high school in 2017, she had an aspiration to continue her education to college to undertake studies on International Relations. However, due to her family’s economic condition, Yuyun decided to postpone the plan and has instead enrolled in an Islamic Boarding School (pesantren) in Babakan, Ciwaringin, Cirebon called Pondok Pesantren Bapenpori Al-Istiqomah. In her current school she is actively involved in both learning and teaching activities with other members of the school, whilst still maintaining her other activity, which is taking an English course.

Yuyun provides a good example of how youth can contribute actively and significantly in the initiatives for combating child marriage. She is among the youth pioneers and activists who manage to make their voices heard in the discourse. One such occasion was the commemoration of International Woman’s Day (IWD) in Jakarta in early March 2018, which was organized by the AKSI Network and Girls Not Brides with support from UNICEF and the Netherlands Embassy for Indonesia. In the event, which was witnessed by Princess Mabel van Oranje, Yuyun shared outspokenly with the audience about her wishes to be an Ambassador who will play a key role in ending and preventing child marriage. “I am a pesantren student. One day I want to become an Ambassador of Indonesia who will be able to part take in the global efforts to tackle the issue of child marriage through diplomatic work,” Yuyun said in front of hundreds of other teenagers, from whom she received warm applause.

Yuyun’s first encounter with the issue of child marriage took place a long time ago. When she was still at elementary school, she witnessed one of her female friends being married right after completing school. Yuyun recalled it as a heartbreaking moment.

When she was in junior high school, a similar occurrence took place. One of her female classmates was forced into marriage in the dawn of her graduation. And once again the experience was repeated when Yuyun was in high school, when one of her friends was ushered into marriage by her parents and family. Yuyun observed that all of the incidents were made possible by one obvious factor: the obedience of her friends to their parents. “All of my friends are afraid of their parents. They are afraid of being disobedient, afraid of being called ungrateful children. We as girls are always taught to be good girls and to always follow what our parents tell us to do. Therefore, it is very hard for us to say no when our parents tell us, or force us, into marriage. The truth is, none of them, and none of us, wanted to be married when we are still in school. We still want to study,” Yuyun further explained.

Yuyun participated in sharing session at the IWD, Erasmus Huis, Dutch Embassy, AKSI- UNICEF, Jakarta 2018

These memories surged into her mind when in late February 2018 her pesantren’s headmaster, Ibu Nyai, appointed her as one of the school’s representatives in the IWD commemoration event in Jakarta. With all of her past encounters with the practice of child marriage, without hesitation Yuyun responded positively to the offer and went all in to the new experience.

Although the event was only one day long, the activity has confirmed Yuyun’s intention and will to dive fully into the issue in the hope of being able to do something about it. Having learned new knowledge and skills from the event, she was more determined than ever to give and dedicate herself in the campaign and other activities aiming at preventing and ending child marriage practices, especially those that take place in her surrounding and neighborhood. Her determination was further supported and facilitated to manifest by the BERDAYA Program when it invited her to join one of its trainings on child marriage prevention in May this year. In this training, Yuyun learnt a lot more new knowledge and skills that are useful to enhance her already growing capacities.

While the IWD commemoration was her mind-opening gate that broadened her perspective on the issue and affirmed her heart’s calling to dedicate herself to the theme, the BERDAYA Program’s training has served as a significant building block and a critical stepping stone that continued to build, develop and solidify her capacities on the theme and provides her with further support and a platform to maintain her activism as a staunch advocate of child marriage prevention in her surroundings and beyond. One of the issues that Yuyun found concerning related to child marriage is girls’ obedience to their parents. This certainly is something that resonates with her past experiences, but this issue itself remains a relevant issue up to today. One of the key factors that has successfully sustained this problem is religious teachings. “We live in a religious environment where children’s obedience to their parents, especially for girls, is very strongly implanted and instilled. It is ingrained in our lives.

As much as I agree with its intent and purpose, I still think that this matter, the obedience to parents (birrul walidain), should not be put into practice in all arenas, especially when it proves to bring more suffering than benefit, as in the case help because he thinks it’s a wife’s/girl’s duty. Things will be even more difficult if the husband is also still a teenager, as he also does not yet have a stable and sufficient income and resources for his family.”

Yuyun: leads the role play on Negotiation to stop child marriage, BERDAYA program, Cirebon, June 2018

From her training with BERDAYA, not only is Yuyun able to identify and lay out in detail the causal factors of child marriage, she is also now able to generate ideas to help prevent the practice. For the youth or teenagers, the most effective way to prevent them from entering this worrisome practice is by providing them with information and knowledge about self-esteem and self-empowerment, personal development, character building, and healthy relationships. All of this is aimed at equipping the youth so that they can grow their potential and can still be popular amongst their friends in a healthy and non-harmful way: a way that will not inflict self-pain or lead to self-destruction. Included in this is a skill in negotiation. According to Yuyun, negotiation skill is important for youth because it can help them negotiate with their parents when they ask or tell them to marry before they are ready. This skill is one of the topics taught in the BERDAYA training, and Yuyun sees it as a very helpful subject that she and others can take out and apply in their everyday life. With this new knowledge and skill, they now know how to discuss and negotiate with parents in a respectful yet more effective manner and without fear of being perceived as disobedient to their parents.

When it comes to economic factors, Yuyun finds it hard to understand why many parents would see marrying off their daughters as the solution. According to her, if economic or financial problem is the reason why parents decide to pull their daughters out of school and thus expose them to early marriage, there are actually other ways that may help to solve the problem other than getting into a marriage. One such way is enrolling the girls into a pesantren (Islamic boarding school). Many pesantren offer their education services for free. Therefore, parents using the family’s economic situation as the reason for stopping their girls’ education is irrelevant here. By studying in pesantren, not only can the parents save money, it can also “save” the girls from entering marriage, as the study at a pesantren can take several years, which will take the girls through to their early adolescence, and the learning system and materials will prepare them to become stronger, more mature and more independent girls. Because of this, Yuyun thinks that it is imperative to raise parents’ awareness about the alternative ways to solve the family’s economic problems in a way that will not jeopardize their girls’ future, as well as to increase parents’ knowledge about the danger and harm of child marriage practices.

Yuyun presented the result of discussion about the key actors of Child Marriage:
BERDAYA program Rumah Kitab, Cirebon, June 2018.

As an active member of her community, Yuyun also suggests that the formal and non-formal leaders, such as community leaders, kampong leaders, religious leaders, etc., should be more sensitive and open-minded towards the aspirations of the youth or teenagers. One of the best ways to do so is by being willing to listen to them and engage in genuine dialogues with them, especially when it comes to their goals, aspirations, and future wishes. Imposing child marriage on them will only kill the dreams and potentials of these young people. [YD]



“An Ever Lucrative Investment”

Yuyun’s story above is a testament of how important and critical capacity development for the youth can be. It is an investment that will pay off greatly and will go a long way into the future. From Yuyun’s experience, we learnt that because of this investment, a girl has successfully and beautifully transformed from a passive and disengaged subject in her community into an active advocate and relentless activist who speaks against child marriage practices in her locality and beyond.

There are many forms of capacity development for youth: regular discussions, workshop, training, internship, direct involvement in campaign and other advocacy activities, are among them. In  Yuyun’s case, it only took two quick events to unleash the many potentials in her: one was a one-day IWD commemoration event and the second a three-day training from the BERDAYA Program. Albeit only receiving relatively a small amount of investment in the form of capacity development on the child marriage theme, Yuyun has developed and thrived significantly in that she has now become one of the pioneers in her community and a leader of her peers in the discussion on prevention of child marriage. One can only imagine: if a one-day event and a three-day activity can so much and have so much positive impact in the life of a girl, what can we as a community gain if we continuously and systematically put our effort, energy, focus and resources into making an even greater investment in building and enhancing the capacities of hundreds and thousands of our girls out there? I feel a shiver – a positive one – just trying to think about it. It must be a door for endless, positive and beautiful possibilities….

Yuyun is one of the youth activists supported by the BERDAYA program in its effort to contribute in the broader initiatives of child marriage prevention in Indonesia. From her, we learnt again and again that investing in girls, especially in their education and capacity strengthening, is always promising, powerful and strategic. In fact, it forms one of the fundamental building blocks in our roadmap to achieving each and all development goals and outcomes. The investment put into the girls will always go a long way and is the broadest way possible, as they will always share everything that they have gained and achieved with all of their circles, and they will do it throughout their life, passing on the knowledge to their offspring. Knowing this truth, it is an obligation for us to not only continue our investment, but also to enhance, widen and step it up in every way possible. Because, from what we learn from Yuyun and many other girls having similar experiences, capacity development for girls is a lucrative investment that will never get old. [Yooke Damopolii]

Delaware on verge of being first U.S. state to ban child marriage

NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Delaware is poised to become the first of the 50 states in the United States to outlaw child marriage despite years of legislative battles, said officials, who hoped this would pave the way for other states to follow.

The measure banning marriage under age 18 without exception was approved by both legislative houses, and the state governor is expected to sign it into law as early as this week, a governor’s spokesman said on Monday.

While 18 is typically the minimum age for marriage in the United States, every state has legal loopholes or exceptions allowing children to wed at a younger age.

“It’s not an exaggeration to say that this is a significant moment for girls. This is historic,” Fraidy Reiss, founder of Unchained at Last, a non-profit group opposed to child marriage, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Between 2000 and 2010, about 170,000 children under 18 were wed in 38 U.S. states where data was available, according to Unchained at Last.

Globally 12 million girls are married before 18 every year, according to Girls Not Brides, a partnership of organizations working to end child marriage.

Currently in Delaware, a small northeastern state along the Atlantic Ocean coast, children under 18 can marry with parental consent, and there are exceptions in cases of pregnancy.

The measure banning marriage for anyone under 18 passed Delaware’s Senate unanimously last week after passing the state House of Representatives in April.

The successful bill comes after roughly three years in which legislation failed in other U.S. states, Reiss said.

“Almost two dozen states have rejected or watered down legislation,” Reiss said. “This is a vestige of the past that we need to let go of, and legislators were having a tough time doing that.”

Lawmakers in Florida recently considered a bill to ban marriage for anyone under 18 but compromised on a law banning marriage under 17.

A bill to end child marriage in New Jersey is moving through the legislature where it is expected to be approved.

“I’m just hoping that Delaware won’t remain the only state to pass this,” Rep. Kim Williams, a Democrat who sponsored the legislation, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“I’m hoping states throughout the nation will join us.”

Campaigners are concerned that children married young tend to leave school early and are at increased risk of abuse. They have more health issues in pregnancy and childbirth and are poorer than those who marry at a later age, studies show.

Many who oppose ending the practice cite religious freedom or seek exceptions for those in military service or pregnant.

Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit


Divorced at 15: Inside the Lives of Child Brides

For Syrian refugee families in Turkey, early marriage is seen as a pathway to security though the outcome is not always as hoped.


K., 15, is recently divorced from her 20-year-old husband. She fled to Turkey when she was 12, was engaged at 13, and got married at 14. She says she is happy to be divorced because the couple did not get along but she is not hopeful about continuing her education. She left school when she was in fourth grade when the war started in Syria.

Photograph by Özge Sebzeci

When the war came to Syria, even families who opposed it felt they had to marry off their teenage daughters for their protection. Now, as refugees, they face the same dilemma. In neighboring countries like Turkey young girls are becoming single mothers amid an ignored child marriage epidemic.

The industrial city of Kayseri in the Anatolian region of Turkey is home to about 60,000 Syrian refugees. Photographer Özge Sebzeci recently spent time documenting a story she says is largely unknown in her native Turkey—the prevalence of marriage and divorce among Syrian refugee children.

The dress worn by a 14 year-old bride to is laid out after her wedding day to an 18 year-old. Sebzeci attended the wedding but was not allowed to take pictures. “[The bride’s] eyes were full of emotion,” Sebzeci recalls. “She was definitely afraid and surprised and trying to understand why all of the attention was on her. She was smiling sometimes as well. It was a powerful moment.”

Photograph by Özge Sebzeci

Girls as young as 13 are getting married in unofficial ceremonies. Sometimes these unions don’t last, leaving the girls divorced at 15 with children to raise, facing barriers to the education and opportunities that would pave the way for success in their new country. “Divorce is easy because all the husband has to do is to say ‘I divorce you’ three times,” Sebzeci says, of a law in Sunni Islam known as “triple talaq.” “The girls don’t have the rights they would otherwise have, such as inheritance and alimony.”
Up: H., 15 (right), and her 13 year-old sister share a moment at their home in Kayseri. They are originally from Aleppo and lived in a refugee camp on the border with Syria for four years.

Down: The infant son of 16 year-old Z. and her 21 year-old husband sleeps on his first day at home from the hospital. Due complications from premature birth, the newborn had to stay in the hospital for more than a month. Z. got married when she was 14.

Photograph by Özge Sebzeci
With the help of a well-connected member of the Syrian refugee community, Sebzeci interviewed girls and their mothers to understand the problem’s root. While some of these mothers had been teen brides themselves, most had not. According to the United Nations Population Fund, child marriage was significantly less common among Syrians before the war began. Some estimates now show child marriage rates to be four times higher among Syrian refugees today than among Syrians before the crisis.

İ., 20, and A., 17, with their 5-day-old baby at their home in Kayseri. The couple were engaged in Syria. 5 days later, İ. stepped onto a mine and lost his leg. He is now a day laborer at mobile phone shops or with shoemakers. They are happy that A. gave birth without complications.

Photograph by Özge Sebzeci

The reasons why families consent to early marriage range from practicality—marrying off their daughters can ease a financial burden—to a desire to protect their honor from men outside of the community who might take advantage of them.

In one instance, a young bride who had lost her father in the war told Sebzeci: “If my father was alive he would have never given permission,” but her mother succumbed to pressure from suitors.

The legal age of marriage in Turkey is 18, or 17 with parental consent. In exceptional circumstances, people can marry at 16, subject to court approval. Religious marriages at ages younger than that still exist at different levels throughout the country as “a known secret,” Sebzeci says. These pockets of acceptance might also explain a reluctance to intervene in refugee communities, perceiving the practice as part of their tradition.

H. shows Sebzeci her engagement ring and dress before her engagement party. “H. asked for a teddy bear when I asked her what she wanted for her engagement,” Sebzeci says. H.’s suitor was a friend of her brother’s, who gave his hand at the wedding.

Photograph by Özge Sebzeci

“Even at weddings [the Syrian families] invite Turkish neighbors who say, ‘This bride is really young,’ but they don’t do anything,” says Sebzeci. “One of the brides went to the hospital to give birth at 15 and was taken by the police to a safe house but she didn’t speak Turkish. The police made her sign [a document] saying that she wouldn’t live with her husband until she was 18 but there is no way to police this. She goes to the station every week to say that she isn’t living with him even though she is.”

Though the girls spoke freely within the safety of their homes, Sebzeci spent more time listening than photographing. Some would not consent to being photographed without their floor-length abayas and she was not allowed to photograph wedding ceremonies. Instead, she used a metaphorical approach—sometimes showing the girls behind the curtains that were literally shielding them from view.

M., 17, pushes her daughter in a stroller outside their home in Kayseri. M. was married when she was 14 and became pregnant shortly thereafter. Her husband left her 20 days after she gave birth to their daughter. She says he was abusive and she is relieved that he is gone but struggles to care for her child by herself. She recently started working as a pharmacy assistant and supports her family on the equivalent of $26 per week.

Photograph by Özge Sebzeci

The key to empowering these families and their daughters to choose differently is education on the local level, including learning Turkish. “We have to think how we can help them adapt to the society,” Sebzeci says.

The woman who introduced Sebzeci to the refugee community sees herself as an activist, Sebzeci says, and tells these stories to put a stop to the practice. When she heard that a 12-year-old schoolmate of her daughter’s was being pursued by a family interested in marriage, she put her foot down. “No,” she warned. “I will tell the journalist.”



Rohingya girls as young as 12 compelled to marry just to get food

Allocation of food rations by household means refugees fleeing persecution in Myanmar are marrying off children as young as 12 to create new family circles

Young Rohingya girls who have fled Myanmar are being forced to marry when they reach Bangladesh simply to secure more food for themselves and their families.

With UN World Food Programme rations allocated by household, families are marrying off girls as young as 12 to reduce the number of mouths to feed and create new households with food quotas of their own, the Guardian has learned.

More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar since the military launched its first round of “clearance operations” in October last year. About 600,000 have been displaced since the second wave in August, which the UN has condemned as “ethnic cleansing”. Security forces have been accused of mass rape and killing.

Medics in Bangladesh say young girls have been a particular target of sexual violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.

But in the camps of Cox’s Bazar, they continue to face violence in the form of early marriage, which causes physical and psychological damage.

“I wasn’t mature when I got married,” said Anwara, who fled Rakhine after the military burned her home. Aged 14, she was married within weeks of arriving in Bangladesh and has just had her first baby.

“I couldn’t understand what had happened, and got weak and didn’t eat anything. I didn’t tell anyone and no one knew I’d conceived. Girls don’t become smart till four or five years after they get their menstruation. That’s when we become strong and understand things in life and have a chance to grow tall and beautiful.

“I wish I could have spent some time without a husband and baby. Then life would have been beautiful.”

The Guardian spoke to more than a dozen teenage girls who had either been made to marry in the camps or whose parents were actively looking for husbands for them.

While early marriage is practised in Rohingya communities in Myanmar, the girls said food rations were a major factor in the decision to get married in the camps. The allocation of 25kg of rice every two weeks is based on an average family size of five, but many families are larger.

This 15-year-old girl was married to a stranger less than two months after reaching Bangladesh following clearance operations in Rakhine state. Photograph: Antolín Avezuela

Marium, 14, arrived in Bangladesh in September. She was married three weeks later. “Everything was burning in the village. As we ran out the people at the front were all shot,” she said.

“I have no father and I was a great burden on my mother so it’s better I got married. Of course if my mother had the ability to feed me I would be happy to stay single.”

Muhammad Hassen has just arranged the marriage of his 14-year-old daughter, Arafa. “We have 10 family members in total, seven daughters, and we get 25kg of rice [every two weeks]. This is not enough for a family of 10,” he said.

“Of course if I’d stayed in Rakhine I would wait to marry my daughter. I was a farmer with three acres of land. I [would have fed her] with what I have in my house or extended family and neighbours would help. Here we can’t do that.”

Arafa had not yet met her husband – who was “very much older than me, about 20” – but she had seen him in the distance and believed he was an “honourable man”.

“I hope it will be good being a wife,” she said. “In my house I do everything for my parents and my young sisters, so it is my habit.”

Only one of the girls interviewed knew their husband before their wedding day, and all the girls who had already married said they knew nothing about sex.

“My parents gave me to my husband because they couldn’t afford to feed me. When I got married, I just thought my husband would feed me, I didn’t understand what he would do [in terms of intimate relations],” said Fatima, who was 12 when she got married.

Mohamad, a camp mazi – community leader – said parents don’t want to marry off their daughters, but “they need to eat”.

WFP said for the latest round of food distribution it had increased its rations for families of more than eight people. A spokesperson initially said the link between child marriage and rations was unlikely. But after hearing the Guardian’s findings, the organisation said it would follow up on the concerns with other UN agencies involved in child protection.

Habibur Rahman, programme head at Bangladesh charity Brac, who works with refugee families, said girls being married off for food was “a deep concern”.

“A household with more than eight members gets two ration cards but the household with seven members is getting one card. As a result, there is a risk of child marriage as a girl child can be married off and that would mean more food per ration,” he said.

“Girls and women in the refugee camps are at especially high risk of child marriage and other forms of violence. Child marriage is already common among the Rohingya, but poverty and insecurity are pushing many displaced families to marry off their daughters even earlier. The government and NGOs must do more to address these risks and take girls into account when planning their response to this crisis.”

Lakshmi Sundaram, executive director of Girls Not Brides, said child marriage had “devastating” consequences including early pregnancy, physical and sexual violence, and an increased likelihood of poverty.

“We cannot ignore child marriage in crisis settings. Governments and NGOs need to pay special attention to the risk of child marriage when they are planning their responses to humanitarian emergencies. That means putting a special focus on safety and access to quality education for girls. It also means working with girls and women from the early stages of a crisis, so they can explain their situations first-hand,” she said.

Already married and pregnant with her first child when she fled Myanmar, this 15-year-old was widowed after her husband fell ill during their escape. Photograph: Antolín Avezuela

Girls and their families said it was easier for them to get married in Bangladesh than in Myanmar. The legal age for girls to wed in Bangladesh is 18, but the country has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world.

For some parents the lax enforcement of marriage laws in Bangladesh is an opportunity. Rosia, 15, said she was married after a woman came to her family’s shelter and suggested if they could not afford to feed Rosia they should marry her to her son. “If my parents agreed, I had to agree,” she said.

But the marriage was a scam. Two months after the wedding it emerged the man was not the woman’s son and started demanding money from the family. When they were unable to pay he disappeared.

“I have one small boy and six girls. In [Myanmar], under-18 marriage is not allowed and we needed military permission and that cost a great deal of money. This was a great opportunity – a chance not available in [Myanmar],” says her father, Muhammed.

Muhammed is determined to find husbands for all his daughters. “Early marriage is not good according to my knowledge – but it is good for me. Because I cannot feed them, one by one I will have to give them husbands.”

Meanwhile, a panel of UN women’s rights experts has responded to mounting evidence that national security forces have committed acts of sexual violence against Rohingya women by asking the Myanmar government to report cases within six months.

The request, known as an exceptional report, is only the fourth of its kind since the UN committee on the elimination of discrimination against women held its first session in 1982.

“We are very cautious and we apply very strict criteria when we decide to go that route, and usually we have different ways of following up on a dialogue,” said committee member Nahla Haidar. “We have had reports of sexual violence, rape, torture, mutilation that women were subjected to. We really felt compelled.”

Such requests occur only in response to “grave and systematic violations”, said Haidar, who added: “We never abuse this procedure.”

  • Some names have been changed to protect identities. Fiona MacGregor travelled with Girls Not Brides. Additional reporting by Rebecca Ratcliffe