Child protection activists decry marriage between 16-year-olds in Sulawesi

A viral photo showing two 16-year-olds getting married in West Sulawesi, Indonesia. Photo: Facebook
A viral photo showing two 16-year-olds getting married in West Sulawesi, Indonesia. Photo: Facebook

Child marriages are, sadly, still quite common in Indonesia, despite the fact that laws exist that should theoretically prevent girls younger than 16 and boys younger than 19 from marrying.

Recently, a photo showing two 16-year-olds at their wedding went viral online, alarming child protection organizations in the country.

“We will get to the bottom of this wedding. If it truly happened, then it’s worrying indeed. The law mandates that parents must prevent marriages between underage children,” said Indonesian Child Protection Commission (KPAI) Chairman Susanto, as quoted by Detik today.

KPAI Commissioner Jasra Purba added that underage marriages pose serious risks for the children involved.

“In underage marriages the children aren’t ready for pregnancy because they’re physically not mature enough. They’re also not ready economically, which lead to many divorces,” he said.

The National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) said that this photo is proof that a judicial review raising the minimum age for marriage is necessary and that enforcement of the law must be carried out properly.

“The adults are responsible, as is the state. If (the state) doesn’t implement laws preventing child marriages, then the state is also involved in marrying children,” said Komnas Perempuan Commissioner Sri Nurherawati, as quoted by Detik today.

Sri added that Komnas Perempuan has filed a judicial review to the Constitutional Court asking to raise the minimum age for marriage for girls to 19. The current minimum age of 16 is at odds with the fact that anyone under the age of 18 is legally a child according to the country’s Child Protection Laws.

The viral photo was reportedly taken at a village in the West Sulawesi province. The newly wed couple are supposedly both still high school students.

The official minimum age of marriage in Indonesia is 16 for girls and 19 for boys, as stated in Law no. 1/1974 on Marriage. However, there is also what is known as nikah siri, which is a type of marriage that follows religious norms (such as in Islam, which has no set minimum age for marriage but has subjective gauges on whether a boy or a girl has reached “maturity” and is therefore fit for marriage) and could be made officially recognized by the state if approved by a religious court. This creates a loophole that allows child marriage to still be practiced in Indonesia.

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