‘It’s destiny’: 15 and 14 year-olds at center of national child marriage controversy finally wed

A 14-year-old girl and a 15-year-old boy from South Sulawesi, Indonesia officially tied the knot on April 23, 2018 after receiving legal dispensation from a religious court to get married so young. Photo: Twitter
A 14-year-old girl and a 15-year-old boy from South Sulawesi, Indonesia officially tied the knot on April 23, 2018 after receiving legal dispensation from a religious court to get married so young. Photo: Twitter

Despite attempts by the national government to intervene, a 15-year-old boy and a 14-year-old girl from Bantaeng, South Sulawesi, officially tied the knot yesterday, even after their controversial case led President Joko Widodo to say he would sign a new regulation to stop the practice of child marriage in Indonesia.

The couple, identified by their initials S and FA, made national headlines recently due to their determination to defy the legal minimum age requirement laws in order to get married. After seeing their initial request for marriage denied by the local Religious Affairs Office (KUA), they filed for and received legal dispensation from the local religious court, which ordered the KUA to officially wed the couple.

The current legal age of marriage in Indonesia is 19 years old for men and 16 years old 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. As such, underage marriages that have been sanctified by religious courts or officials must still be officially recognized by the government.

With the court’s order, S and FA got married in a low-key ceremony led by a Bantaeng KUA official. Speaking to the press afterwards, child bride FA spoke of her happiness at finally getting married to S.

“The first reason [for our marriage] is that it’s destiny,” she said, as quoted by CNN Indonesia.

FA said she’ll continue going to school, and she dreams of going to university to study to become a doctor. She said that S, on the other hand, has been working since he dropped out of primary school and that he will continue working to support their small family.

“[He works as a] construction worker,” she said.

Before S and FA got married, their controversial engagement spurred the government to enact a legal solution to stopping child marriages in the country. The Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Ministry (PPPA) sent a team of officials to stop S and FA’s marriage (they evidently failed) and PPPA Minister Yohana Yembise said over the weekend that President Joko Widodo has agreed to sign a Perppu (Government Regulation in Lieu of Law) soon, which will likely raise the legal age of marriage to 20 years old for women. The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), the nation’s highest clerical authority, objected to the potential Perppu on religious grounds.

In April of last year, 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.

Even so, stories about children (some as young as 14) getting married continued to take place and go viral on social media since then. 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.

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