Child marriage surges amid Covid-19 and growing conservatism

Indonesia is experiencing a surge in child marriages. By June, 24,000 applications for permission to marry underage had been lodged with district and religious courts this year – more than two and a half times the total number for the whole of 2012.


This escalation goes against significant recent improvements in the legal framework, policies and public campaigns, as well as the government’s stated aim to reduce the prevalence of child marriage from 11.2% to 8.7% by 2024.


Court clerks cite teen pregnancies and last year’s amendment to the 1974 Marriage Law as reasons for the higher number of requests to marry young.


Under the 1974 Marriage Law, the minimum age of marriage was 19 for boys and 16 for girls, provided they had permission from their parents. The 2019 amendments raised the minimum marriageable age for girls to 19, with parental permission, bringing it into line with the minimum for boys (Article 7(1)). However, the revised law still allows parents to ask courts for special dispensation for their children to marry before 19 if there are “pressing reasons” (Article 7(2)).


Many factors drive child marriage in Indonesia. Poverty, education, the stigmatisation of sexuality outside marriage, religious convictions, local perceptions about marriageable age, and even ‘mutual love’ (suka-sama-suka) among teen couples all play a role in rates of child marriage.


The Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection has expressed concern that increased economic pressure from Covid-19 may be leading parents to push their children to marry young, to reduce the economic burden on their households. A trend that idealises young marriage, promoted by conservative religious groups and on social media, is another factor.


The Manpower Ministry reported that more than 3.5 million workers had been laid off by 31 July, with the number predicted to rise to 5.5 million by year-end. Indonesia’s poverty rate is expected to increase to 9.7 per cent by September, meaning that 1.3 million more people will be pushed into poverty.


The impacts of this for children are frightening. Unicef predicts that the increase in poverty in Indonesia will worsen child malnutrition, affecting children’s physical and mental development. It will increase the risk of 9.7 million children dropping out of school. Economic decline, combined with lack of formal education, may drive parents to urge their children to marry young, especially girls.


At the same time, Indonesia is experiencing a surge of religious conservatism that is driving a backlash against legal efforts to support gender equality and end child marriage. For example, the ‘Indonesia Without Dating’ (Indonesia Tanpa Pacaran) movement encourages young adults to avoid dating and focus on serving God. It has attracted more than a million followers on Instagram. Its social media content pairs fairy-tale images of romantic love with slogans that encourage young marriage as a way to avoid the temptation of pre-marital relations.


An idealised view of young marriage is also promoted by social media influencers. Sabrina Salsabila, a teenager from West Java who married at 16, has amassed more than 74,000 subscribers on YouTube and more than 133,000 followers on Instagram, where she shares airbrushed images of her glamorous, globetrotting life as a young bride. Despite facing some public criticism, her young followers continue to express their desire to follow her path.


Conservative family values may also be a factor. A study of 61 dispensations for underage marriage in 2017-2018 conducted by students and a lecturer at Gadjah Mada University’s Faculty of Law found that the majority of those marriages were instigated by parents who felt that their children had dated long enough, and were concerned about the potential for pre-marital sex. In cases of teen pregnancy, child marriage was pushed by families as an immediate solution. In other words, some families’ moral values conflict with legal protections against child marriage.


Further, Indonesian family law is a complex patchwork of national, customary (adat), religious, and Dutch colonial laws. While the revised Marriage Law sets a clear minimum age of 19 for boys and girls, and only allows child marriage with court approval, adat and religious laws have their own definitions and guidelines. Although the courts do not recognise them, these alternative legal systems are another cause of the high number of underage marriage applications across Indonesia.

What can be done? 

The amendment to the Marriage Law, and a subsequent Supreme Court regulation that provided guidance for judges in deciding marriage dispensation proceedings, were hard-won achievements in the fight to end child marriage in Indonesia. For more than 40 years, through five administrations, the Marriage Law remained unchanged, as lawmakers and politicians avoided the sensitive issue.


If it were not for the efforts of a relentless civil society movement that drafted and promoted amendments to the Marriage Law, and a group of victims of child marriage who filed a judicial review application with the Constitutional Court, these changes would never have happened.


As the government responds to Covid-19, efforts for economic recovery must include assistance to prevent more families falling into poverty, as well as efforts to ensure children’s right to formal education is fulfilled. Further work must be done to provide adequate and sensible sexual and reproductive health education in schools and communities.


Addressing conservative religious and customary values is a much more challenging task. The government cannot rely on top-down, bureaucratic programs to address the issue. Local context matters. The government should facilitate village and religious leaders, parents, teachers and young people to come up with community-based programs to respond to the local situation.


Victims’ stories of child marriage and the impact it had on their lives were compelling for the Constitutional Court when it decided the marriageable age of 16 for girls was unconstitutional. Victims should be provided with more opportunities to tell their stories to their peers, to debunk false images of blissful child marriage.


It is also essential to create a broader and more frequent discourse on child marriage, providing opportunities for conservative groups to sit together with opponents of child marriage. Influencers could also be recruited to spread messages on social media to counter the narrative of conservative groups.


Indonesia has made remarkable progress in improving the legal and policy framework to protect children from child marriage. But as recent figures have shown, policy change is not enough on its own. To prevent further backsliding, a serious effort will be required – and soon.



Why women ulema reject patriarchy

by Yulianti Muthmainnah

The challenge of pluralism that Indonesia faces today is the strengthening of identity politics, where women are among the targets of patriarchal ideals hiding behind the robes of religion. Religion is used to justify polygyny and child marriage, among other things.

Increasing efforts to revive polygyny as an acceptable practice often refer to Prophet Muhammad’s household, though some of his wives were older. Likewise, child marriage is seen as a way to preserve a girl’s morality and purity by avoiding sinful premarital sex. The strategy of appealing to religious purity juxtaposes “us” with “them” — “infidels”, “the West” and “Westerners”.

This leads to ahistorical and meaningless interpretations of religious texts. The policing of women and their bodies is considered necessary to uphold religion.

We see, for instance, advertisements on chat groups promoting seminars or training on “fast polygyny” with fees of Rp 3.5 million (US$241.30) to ensure “responsible” polygyny supposedly in line with the practice of the Prophet, or a cheap marriage package guaranteed to be syar’i (in line with sharia) for those under 18.

Meanwhile, child marriage has reached emergency proportions. According to a report by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, “State of the World’s Children 2016”, one in seven girls in Indonesia is married as a child.

Thus, Indonesia ranks second among the 10-member ASEAN and seventh internationally in the prevalence of child marriage.

Among many factors, including poverty, studies by the Rumah KitaB research center show that religiosity, especially the wish to preserve morality, plays a very significant role in child marriage.

The impacts on women who get married as children include dropping out of school, exposure to domestic violence, poor reproductive health and even death related to pregnancy and complications in labor, apart from poverty.

Women in a polygynous marriage also often lack access to social protection, many have neither birth nor marriage certificates and lack legal documents for inheritance, among other negative consequences.

The 1974 Marriage Law essentially upholds monogamous marriage and limits child marriage. However, polygyny and child marriage appear to be on the rise; justifications found in the same law include conditions for taking another wife and legal permission even for children under 16 to marry based on parental request.

Yet, women and girls in polygyny and child marriage are legally unprotected, because most of the unions are unregistered and undocumented.

A historic breakthrough occurred on Dec. 13: The Constitutional Court ruled to end child marriage, though the demanded increase in the marriage age requires a change of the 1974 law to become effective. The ruling followed the third attempt at changing the law, with the main plaintiffs including women that had been married as children.

Women ulema have long felt the need to respond to religious views that are detrimental to women, by offering a new perspective inspired by the Islamic spirit of justice and protection.

As a member of the Muhammadiyah Islamic organization and the Indonesian Women Ulema Congress (KUPI), I have witnessed the progress of women in Indonesia in addressing continued abuse against women and girls.

Aisyiyah, the women’s wing of Muhammadiyah, and the Muhammadiyah councils of fatwa and Islamic reform in Makassar this year issued a fatwa on children (fikih anak) that states the minimum marrying age should be 18 for males and females, who are generally physically and psychologically mature at this age.

In its book Keluarga Sakinah (Family with Tranquillity) published in 1982, Muhammadiyah promoted the understanding of the ideal family based on the principle of monogamy.

Such teachings and legal opinions had progressed far beyond the state policy under the 1974 Marriage Law.

Meanwhile, KUPI’s initial congress in 2017 produced three fatwas, one being that preventing child marriage is mandatory, because child marriage brings about damage and harm rather than bringing families closer to a household of tranquillity, love (mawaddah) and compassion (wa rahmah).

Such fatwas from Muhammadiyah and the KUPI should always guide efforts to increase awareness of the dangers of child marriage and polygyny.

At a recent expert conference on pluralism in Paris in November, speakers shared how teachings of faith and custom continued to corner women, even justifying violence against them.

At least in Indonesia, I told participants, Statistics Indonesia (BPS) has begun to record instances of violence against women, following efforts of women groups and the National Commission on Violence against Women.

We heard how in Nigeria, according to Benedicta Daber, director of Justice

Development and Peace Caritas, many women face poverty if they separate from their husbands, or continued domestic abuse if they don’t, as the religion did not allow divorce.

When a husband dies, the woman either must marry a man from the husband’s family if she wants to survive and obtain her husband’s inheritance, or leave everything behind, including property and children.

A leading imam of Nigeria, Muhammad Ashafa, said the practice of polygyny reflected more on the perspective of the imam or cleric and was not an Islamic tradition.

The Quran drastically limited the number of wives to four from the unlimited number of wives permitted to men in past Arabian societies.

As even leading imams have acknowledged that polygyny is not Islamic, upholding monogamy and abolishing child marriage requires further support. Muhammadiyah and the KUPI have started with the above fatwa and legal opinions, which have been incorporated in the draft on the revision of the Marriage Law.

The law’s revision requires a huge commitment from various sides, including politicians, amid resistance from those seeking to uphold patriarchy in the guise of religion. Legislative candidate Grace Natalie of the Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI) has spoken up clearly on monogamy.

Indeed, monogamy is not only in line with the Islamic principles of ‘adilah(justice) and mubadalah (reciprocity) but also the principle of democracy that requires justice to be assured by the state, even in the most personal sphere of the household.

The fatwa from the KUPI and Muhammadiyah councils should be constantly promoted at the local, national and international level. Though nonbinding, they provide breakthroughs to obsolete laws and narrow interpretations of Islam with vested interests of perpetuating patriarchy.

Religious figures and organizations must speak up against challenges to our pluralism, which also victimize women and girls with various justifications.

When religious figures lack formula to protect women, they should at least recognize the above breakthroughs and pass on such fatwas to their grassroots communities.


The writer is a lecturer at the Ahmad Dahlan Institute of Technology and Business Jakarta (STIE-AD) a member of the Law and Human Rights Council’s National Board of Aisyiyah, the women’s wing of Muhammadiyah, and program manager of Alimat, Indonesian Women Ulema Congress (KUPI). She was a speaker at a discussion on pluralism held in November by Pharos Observatoire in Paris.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.


The Religion and Cultural Fundamentalist Issues in BERDAYA Program

One of the challenges of BERDAYA program is that the purpose of this activity can contradict with religious and cultural fundamentalists who consider child marriage to be their domain.

Religious fundamentalism is both a religious as well as an ideology that believes that the best way to save people from destruction on earth is to “return to the basic dogma.” Methodologically they invite to return to the understanding of the text of Scripture (Qur’an and hadith). But its way of understanding uses the literalist basis. This literalist argumentation rejects the results of ijtihad and the classical law argumentation that have been codified by scholars who develop Islamic thought contextually for centuries through the process of culture-civilization to Islam in accordance with the times. This reinvigorated effort of textual teaching eliminates the essence of humanity within it. This literalist view makes the religious view stalled, static and consequently Islam evolving backward so that religious views become rigid and incapable of adapting to the modern age, this condition creates an antipathic view of the modern civilization itself.

Ideologically, this view of fundamentalism is one level below radicalism, while radicalism is a belief or action with the imposition of views and attitudes through violence and terrorism. Fundamentalism is the embryo of the birth of radicalism even to the level of terrorism if there is no process that prevents it. Cultural fundamentalism is also similar to the condition of religious fundamentalism, both of them refers to the basic guidelines of an ideology, one a religious ideology, while another is a cultural ideology. Cultural fundamentalism will give rise to a rigid and absolute view of treating traditions. Religious and cultural fundamentalism are equally harmful to women because they consider the existence of women to be a measure of change, so control over the women is important to keep their ideology. Child marriage is one of the things that they maintain because it is in accordance with the religious fundamentalism that is believed.

Indonesian Muslim Feminists: Islamic Reasoning, Rumah Kitab And The Case Of Child Brides

Written by Nelly van Dorn-Harder, Professor at Wake Forest University, North Carolina. Published by Institute on Culture, Religion & World Affairs, Boston University, USA.


Indonesian: not Arab!

Indonesia is a vast country with numerous languages, cultures and ethnicities. It should not surprise us that discussions about Islam reflect the complexity of the country. In spite of this diversity, authorities on Indonesian Islam agree that several distinctive features set it apart from Middle Eastern Islam. According to Azyumardi Azra, Indonesian Islam is firmly embedded in local cultures, and the state is democratically governed under the common ideological platform of the Pancasila model that in principle sanctions the full legal presence of Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Confucian, and Bahai communities.1 Furthermore, a distinctive feature is that for nearly half a century the majority of Indonesian Muslim leaders have allowed women to hold religious and secular leadership roles. This development is also discernible in various mainstream Muslim organizations of which Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah are the largest, and “can be seen as a perfect representation of Islamic-based civil society.”2

Simply put, the prevalent opinion is that Indonesian Islam is not Arab and never will be. Yet, when in 1998, the Suharto regime fell and the country’s political system became more democratic, Islamic movements whose main goal was to align Indonesian Islam more closely with interpretations from Middle Eastern Arab countries started to influence the country’s public life. The new-found democratic freedoms not only allowed for a pluralization of Islamic ideals, but also led to a fragmentation of religious authority. Communal boundaries were redrawn and relatively small numbers of extremist Muslim thinkers disproportionately influenced the creation of new laws and Islamic regulations. New political and religious actors emerged, all presenting new possibilities for what Hoesterey and Clark referred to as a glorious Islam “in the abstract.”3 In this crowded landscape, women, their bodies, roles, and rights became the symbolic bearers of how the abstract should be translated into reality.4

This new religious reality begs the question as to how Muslim feminist activists belonging to the mainstream organizations of NU and Muhammadiyah negotiated some of the sweeping changes in religious attitudes. While feminism comes in many forms, in this context I refer to Muslim feminists; women and men for whom the key to women’s liberation is found in re-interpreting the Qur’an and other Islamic sources (for example the Tradition or Hadith) from the perspective of gender equality. Their reference point is the belief that the sources for women’s liberation are the Muslim holy texts, but that these have been misread and abused to subordinate women.5 In Indonesia, feminists, Muslim or not, fight several battles against multiple forms of injustice perpetrated against women. Among others, they address issues connected to domestic violence and other forms of violence against women such as human trafficking, women’s reproductive rights (including FGM, Female Genital Mutilation)6, polygamy, unregistered or secret forms of marriage (nikah siri), child marriage (pernikahan di bawah usia, or pernikahan dini), and women’s public and private leadership roles.7

In this essay I focus on the strategies developed against the practice of underage or child marriage by the non-governmental organization Rumah Kitab (Rumah Kita Bersama). The rationale for this choice is that the practice of child or underage marriage touches on several of the main priorities of the Muslim feminist agenda as it includes the issues of secret marriage and polygamy. Furthermore, in Indonesia and many Muslim majority countries it is a brazen infraction of state marriage laws that impose a minimum age for women and men. Underage marriage is a form of violence against women, it threatens a girl’s (reproductive) health, and is often performed in secret as by necessity
it remains unregistered. In many instances the child bride enters a polygamous union.

According to the 2015 report by Coram International, 7.8% of Indonesian brides were 12-14 years old and 30.6% were 15-17 at the time of marriage (according to Indonesian law, the minimum age for girls is sixteen and for boys, nineteen).8 These numbers are higher than the numbers given by Unicef in 2014 that estimated 21% of Indonesian women between the age of 20-24 to be married before the age of eighteen of whom 3% were under the age of 15.9 The practice is mostly driven by socioeconomic factors such as poverty and local customs. For example some areas perform so-called “hanging” marriages (kawin gantung): a girl child is officially married but sexual relations are postponed until she has reached maturity. Child marriage is also supported by rigid gender norms that normalize male violence against women. Certain radical Muslim groups have promoted the practice as proof of Islamic correctness and a means to protect the bride’s honor. Some groups even present the practice as “cool.”

Get the full journal here 

What is Bogor Mayor Bima Arya playing at?

Bima Arya Sugiarto became mayor of Bogor in 2014 on the back of promises to root out corruption in the bureaucracy, restore order to the city’s chaotic streets and resolve the longstanding conflict over the construction of the Yasmin church. With a master’s degree from Monash University, a PhD from Australian National University and experience working with the United Nations Development Programme, he was touted as one of the new batch of reformist leaders who had come to power through direct elections and were set to transform Indonesia. Over recent months, however, his name has become synonymous with religious intolerance.

On 22 October, Bima Arya and other local officials prevented local Shi’a Muslims from commemmorating Ashura, a core celebration in the Shi’a faith that marks the death of the grandson of Ali, the first Shi’a Imam. Bima Arya issued a circular forbidding the celebration for the sake of “security”, saying that it had the potential to make other religious communities uncomfortable. The fate of the Yasmin Church, meanwhile, is still uncertain. Bima Arya has continued the much-criticised policies of his predecessor, Diani Budiarto, who ignored a clear Supreme Court ruling in the church’s favour and sealed the church property after protests from hard-line groups.

During Ramadhan earlier this year, Bima Arya also created controversy by reportedly smashing a glass in a bar that had remained open during the fasting month. And in 2014, he issued a circular urging all residents to stop work and pray at the closest mosque or prayer room whenever they heard the call to prayer. These incidents have created the impression that the so-called reformer of Bogor has some decidedly conservative tendencies.

How did Bima Arya get to this point? Bima Arya and his running mate, Usmar Hariman, won the mayoral election by a slim margin over Ahmad Ru’yat and Halim Hermana. The Bogor General Elections Commission (KPUD Bogor) reported that they won by under 2,000 votes, equivalent to less than 0.5 per cent of the total votes. There were just 673,938 registered voters in Bogor, and a voter turnout of 63 per cent, low by Indonesian standards.

Bima Arya surely knows that he won because Bogor residents were sick of the old mayor, who was more famous for preventing the construction of the Yasmin church and taking on multiple wives than for any efforts to improve the city. Electors wanted Bima Arya to restore order to the city, reduce congestion and improve waste management.

Residents of Bogor are mainly office workers, university staff, students, and traders. Many of the office workers commute every day to Jakarta. As in most areas of Indonesia, the majority of residents are Muslim, with the rest Protestant, Catholic or Buddhist, many of them ethnic Chinese.

However, Bogor is also a centre for hard-line Muslim communities. It is home to the Al-Ghazali Islamic boarding school, led by the preacher Mama Abdullah bin Nuh, where the Indonesian branch of Hizbut Tahrir was established. Bogor Agricultural Institute (IPB) has also been fertile ground for conservative Islam, and was home to the Qur’an discussion groups that went on to form the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS). There is emerging evidence of the influence of the conservative Wahhabi ideology in the region and it is not uncommon to see women with long black gowns covering them from foot to head, or men in long loose Islamic robes.

Given that many Bogor residents are commuters and new arrivals, they don’t show the same love for their city as, say, the residents of Bandung, who live, work and play in their city. It therefore makes sense that one of the first steps Bima Arya took when he came to power was to encourage residents to fall in love with Bogor, or “Bogoh ka Bogor”. He looked for quick wins, such as improving the city’s public gardens, revitalising public playgrounds, addressing waste management and trying to restore some order to the unruly public minibuses that clog the city’s streets. Bima Arya also promoted cultural events, such as Bogor-themed cooking demonstrations, and held public tours of the city’s unique Dutch architecture.

But Bogor is not known as the city of a million minibuses for nothing. Unchecked development of hotels and malls under the previous administration has also contributed to traffic chaos. The most miserable days are weekends and public holidays, when residents should be able to be out showing their love for their city. Instead they face infuriating congestion.

Bima Arya’s efforts to eradicate corruption in the civil service have also moved slowly. When the mayor came to power he began firing government officials who were suspected of corruption. Recently, however, he has admitted that when power relations are built on money politics, it is important to take a careful approach to combating corruption to avoid being impeached.

Despite these ongoing frustrations it must be acknowledged that public order and the management of city parks have vastly improved under Bima Arya. But as even he admits, waste management is a formidable task. Citizens who litter without any concern for who is going to pick it up – as well as a lack of commitment from city waste management staff – mean that it will be a very long time before Bogor gets a reputation for cleanliness.

Facing these intractable problems, maybe it is no great surprise that Bima has turned to trying to woo the conservative supporters of his electoral rivals. After two years of only modest progress, and being dubbed “Wagiman” (Walikota Gila Taman, or Park-Crazy Mayor) perhaps Bima sees exploiting the intolerance of the Sunni majority toward Shi’a, Christian or Ahmadiyah minorities as a way to boost his waning popularity. But by doing so he has alienated his core supporters, who have begun to walk away.

As a city mayor, Bima Arya’s focus should be on public services and on getting things done, not playing politics. Perhaps his actions can be explained by further political aspirations, for example to the governorship of West Java. The depressing truth is that an anti-minority stance is popular among the conservative voters of the province. But other observers who have known the mayor since high school say that we are now seeing the real Bima Arya. He might seem like a reformist nationalist on the outside, they say, but the inside is Islamic fundamentalist.

Rather than turning their backs on him and allowing conservative groups to dictate policy, Bogor residents still have the potential to turn things around by demanding that Bima Arya demonstrate the strength of character that made people vote for him two years ago. Of course it will depend on which residents Bima Arya chooses to listen to, and the signs are not encouraging so far.

The article was originally posted here.

Islam and Indonesia’s New Social Orphans

This article was originall published in Jakarta Globe.

Every Ramadan, Muslims talk not only about fasting but also about helping orphans. Indeed, for those who are unable to fast and cannot make up for this later in the year, feeding orphans or the poor is seen as an equivalent deed.

In the Koran there are many verses that command us to uphold our prayers and to fast, followed immediately by a social obligation to help the poor: “Perform the prayers, pay zakat.”

But who exactly are these “orphans” and, considering the dramatic and ongoing changes in our social structure, isn’t it about time to review this concept?

Parents out of the picture

Generally, the Indonesian term yatim piatu is used to refer to children who have lost both parents — yatim is a child without a father, while piatu means a child without a mother. This interpretation is based on the assumption that parents are the sole source of both life and protection. However, the structure of society and the factors that cause children to become “orphans” have changed considerably in recent times.

Changes in our living space have altered the extended family structure throughout Indonesia. Traditional economic resources have been destroyed, but the economic resources that have replaced them — such as oil palm plantations, mining, oil and gas extraction and the cement industry — do not recognize a social or communal role of protection.

And so children and teenagers become social orphans: they have no parents, as their parents are absent, but they also receive no protection from the extended family because it — also — has become powerless.

Sadly, the functions of traditional communities have become inadequate as a means of help, and in fact create social pressure to preserve the only remaining form of defense: the self-respect of the (otherwise ineffective) extended family.

Historical context

At the time the religious commands about helping orphans and the poor were revealed, parents were the source of protection, backed by their tribe or clan. In a traditional agrarian society, the functions of social protection and support, support from nature, and other mechanisms of protection, as documented in the moral guidelines in the Koran, were quite effective in aiding orphans and the poor.

In the social structure of historical Mecca and Medina, these functions grew and expanded in a communal society that depended on the strength of the clans, in which the tribal leaders carried out these protective functions. Islam then established rules, not merely as normative ideals (in the period when the Prophet Muhammad was still in Mecca) but also as explicit regulations for the procedure and its implementation (during the prophet’s time in Medina).

The Koran describes in great detail how these protection mechanisms are to be organized, such as the obligations to pay zakat fitrah (annually at Idul Fitri, the end-of-Ramadan celebrations), zakat mal (charitable donations), payments of fines for religious violations and it even presents specific calculations. This, at the time, was considered adequate to provide for orphans and the poor.

The problem is that in the modern socioeconomic structure, the term “orphans” should actually apply not only to those whose parents are no longer alive, but also those who have effectively lost their parents — such as children and adolescents whose parents are working in other provinces or as migrant workers abroad. These are children whose parents are alive but who have lost their entire social support network.

At the same time, the social functions of the extended family or clan can no longer be relied on, due to the interventions of corporations, the state and the wider context of economic globalization. The protective powers of parents and relatives have been eroded by same social changes that create these new social orphans.

Consider, for example, regions where many parents have gone away as migrant workers, such as West Nusa Tenggara, East Java, West Java, and West and South Kalimantan. The rates of child marriage in these regions are extremely high. The cause is obvious: children grow up without substitute parents who are able to safeguard their growth and development.

Religion of justice

We can explore the changes in Indonesians’ living space further by looking at statistics. School dropout rates and maternal and child mortality rates are all higher for residents in regions that undergo significant changes in their living spaces: from natural forests to oil palm plantations, from irrigated rice field agriculture to the tourism industry, from natural beaches and coastlines to iron-sand mining sites.

These changes in the structure of society, in power relations, and in living spaces create a multitude of social orphans. They have generated massive wealth for some and massive exploitation for others. These changes have also altered social relations to become more exploitative and oppressive. In this changing social structure, the meaning of the term “orphans” thus has to be expanded as well.

The protection of orphans needs to be seen in a new perspective.

What we need are ideas rooted in religion and society that recognize the concept of social orphans. Only then can we seek a solution through the injunction to fast and provide for those in need. Without this, Islam will merely be a set of rituals that has lost its essence as a religion of justice that defends the poor and the weak.