The Indonesian government has talked more recently about taking concrete steps to end the practice of child marriage, but viral stories continue to highlight how widespread the problem is.
The latest child union to make headlines around the country is that of a 16-year-old boy, identified by his initials AA, and his 14-year-old girlfriend, identified by her initials DA, on Sunday (however some media reports put AA’s age at 15 and DA’s at 12). AA is a resident of Bacukiki Sub-district in Parepare City while DA hails from Sidrap Regency, both of which are in South Sulawesi.
Pictures from their wedding went viral on social media after they were shared by several local news websites.
Nurdiana, AA’s mother, said her son had expressed his intention to marry DA, but both sets of parents initially refused due to their children’s young age. Not only that, both teens parents disapproved of their relationship and banned them from dating.
The wedding ceremony was held at DA’s house in Sidrap, reportedly after the pair obtained dispensation to marry by the region’s religious court. The newlyweds currently live with AA’s parents.
Hearing that there were underage residents tying the knot, officials from the Bacukiki Sub-district, including officials from the Bacukiki Religious Affairs Offices (KUA), visited Nurdiana’s home a day after the wedding.
“We were shocked upon seeing our underage residents getting married. Apparently, the wedding took place in another regency,” Bacukiki Sub-district head Iskanda Nusu said yesterday during the visit.
Bacukiki KUA head Amir Said said he disapproved of their marriage. However, because the wedding took place outside of Parepare City, he couldn’t do much to prevent or annul the marriage.
“We disagreed with the child marriage because it violates the law. But the parents said they were forced to marry their children,” Amir said.
Child marriages are not uncommon in South Sulawesi because of the tradition of the native Bugis Makassar tribe. In fact, many of the viral stories about child marriages in recent years took place in the province, and, like AA and DA, many couples obtain legal dispensation to marry by the local religious court.
In April of last year, for example, a 15-year-old and a 14-year-old from South Sulawesi received legal dispensation from the local religious court to marry after their initial marriage request was denied by KUA.
In reaction to the shocking case, President Joko Widodo has agreed to sign a regulation raising the minimum age for marriage and effectively end child marriage, though there have been no reports that it has been signed since.
The current legal age of marriage in Indonesia is 19 for men and 16 for women. However, the country’s 1974 Law on Marriage also includes a major loophole to this requirement which allows marriages to still be considered legal if they are done “in accordance” with religious belief, known as nikah siri. As such, underage marriages that have been sanctified by religious courts or officials must still be officially recognized by the government — if not, many are satisfied with merely fulfilling religious or traditional requirements for marriage.
In April 2017, Indonesian female Muslim clerics issued an unprecedented fatwa (edict) declaring child marriage to be harmful as it is a large contributor to Indonesia’s high maternal mortality rate. Furthermore, they cited studies that many Indonesian child brides could not continue their studies once wed and half their marriages ended in divorce in addition to child marriage increasing the risks of exploitation, sexual violence, and domestic abuse.
Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Deputy Minister Lenny Rosalin said that child marriage in Indonesia is at “emergency levels” as, based on UNICEF data, Indonesia ranks seventh in the world and the second highest in Southeast Asia in terms of the overall percentage of marriages in which at least one of the spouses is under 18 years old. According to government census data, 17% of all Indonesian girls married in 2016 were under 18.