Women’s rights activists in Indonesia are pushing President Joko Widodo to issue a presidential regulation that will make child marriage illegal in the country, where its prevalence is one of the highest in world.
They submitted on Apr. 20 their proposed draft of a presidential regulation to Widodo, in lieu of a law to prevent and abolish early marriage. Presidential spokesman Johan Budi, confirmed that the meeting took place in Bogor Palace.
Naila Rizqi Zakiah, a public attorney from Community Legal Aid Institute (LBH Masyarakat) and one of the 18 activists invited to meet with him, said they raised three issues: Child marriage, the bill to amend the criminal code, and the bill against sexual violence.
“The first issue the president responded to was child marriage,” Zakiah said.
“We asked him to issue a presidential regulation in lieu of a law to prevent and stop child marriage. We’ve come up with a draft, and we submitted it to him for his perusal.”
She said Widodo responded “positively” to the proposal after they explained to him that child marriage could deny children their basic human rights and hinder national development.
“We submitted this draft because we think rampant child marriage in the country is an emergency situation, while the procedure in Parliament to amend the articles on the minimum age to marry in the marriage law could be lengthy,” Zakiah said.
The Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection has urged Parliament to prioritize amending the 1974 marriage law to raise the minimum age for females to marry to 20 and for males to 22.
The law requires parental permission for those under 21 who want to marry. The minimum legal age for women to marry is 16, and 19 for men.
Parents can request a legal exemption from a religious court to marry children younger than that, with no limit on the minimum age.
Women’s and child rights activists have been advocating to raise the minimum legal age for females to marry to 18, in line with the child protection law that categorizes those under 18 as minors.
“It’s still not the ideal age to get married, but would be the minimum (acceptable),” said Maria Ulfa Anshor, a commissioner for the Indonesian Child Protection Commission.
“We appreciate the president’s response. We’ve been waiting for so long for this move, especially since the risks and dangers of child marriage, such as the high maternal mortality rate, are so real,” she added.
“I hope there will be no more child marriage, because the courts give exemptions to do so.”
The Constitutional Court in June 2015 rejected a request to review the marriage law and raise the legal age for girls to marry from 16 to 18.
According to UNICEF, child marriage in Indonesia is rampant, with more than one in six girls, or 340,000, getting married every year before they reach adulthood.
Child marriage is most prevalent among girls who are 16 and 17, but there has been a decline among under-15s.
The debate about banning child marriage resurfaced following media reports of a 14-year-old girl and her 15-year-old boyfriend in South Sulawesi province who sought an exemption from a religious court to get married, which they obtained. They reportedly got married on Monday.
The story was first published in Arab News