Child marriage in Indonesia is now outlawed, but isn’t over yet

In a ruling by Indonesia's parliament, the minimum age at which women can get married has been raised to 19 years of age.

A recent ruling by Indonesia’s parliament has raised the minimum age at which women can get married to 19 years. The decision is meant to combat child marriage in the country. The lawmakers unanimously voted to change the current marriage law. According to the Girls Not Brides, an international partnership that is committed to ending all child marriage, Indonesia has the 8th highest number of child marriages around the globe. 

Indonesia’s previous minimum age for girls was 16. Raising it to 19 brings it to the same age that men have had. Previously, the age limit, some girls would still be married prior to their sixteenth birthday. The laws haven’t been strictly enforced as many parents could simply just ask local officials or religious courts to enable these marriages as if the law never existed in the first place. 

Girls Not Brides suggests that the factors driving child marriage include a lack of education. The child marriage rates are much lower when the head of the household has completed a post-secondary education and girls that have completed a secondary or post secondary education are three times less likely to marry before the age of 18. 

Poverty is also a factor. Parents can see early marriage as a way to give their children a better life. The married child gets a new home and the parents have fewer mouths to feed. 

However, some parents don’t realize the disempowered situation they put their children in when they are in such relationships with potentially older men. They see it as normal and sometimes a way to survive. From the time the children are born, their lives are pretty much decided for them. World Vision reports that many of these girls are sexually abused and feel unable to voice themselves on what they want, such as having a child.  

According to World Vision, child brides fullest potential is less likely to be achieved due to the early separation from their parents and the expectation of being a grown woman at such a young age. 

Gender norms also contributes to child marriage. Often, girls are seen as adult women as soon as they begin menstruation. Marriage and childbearing are seen as the next natural steps. In Indonesia, it is common for women to marry young age, and not recognized as a problem. Instead it is when people marry later in their lives that it’s seen as a breaking norms.

Even after this recent update to marriage laws, Indonesia’s parliament will need to continue working on this issue if they want to minimize the number of child brides. While the age minimum has been raised, parents still end up being able to marry their child off by asking their local officials and religious courts. 

“Ending child marriage will not be achieved by laws alone,” Rachael Yates, executive director for Girls Not Brides, said to CNN. “While laws and policies are essential in preventing child marriage, we also need to change the attitudes that make child marriage acceptable in the first place.” 

Image credit: Oyonraiman

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