It is high time President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo issued an emergency rule in lieu of law (Perppu) to end child marriage by increasing the legal minimum marrying age. This is not just because one child bride died in September following domestic violence in Indramayu, West Java. It is because the Indonesian state, through the law and the courts, up to the Constitutional Court and through parents and even religious leaders, continue to condone the rape of minors and force girls to be mothers.
Take the latest statement of the Supreme Court. Its spokesman told The Jakarta Post on Thursday that courts could not ban people from getting married including minors seeking the courts’ dispensation, as it was a “human right”.
The Constitutional Court in 2015 overturned a judicial review request to raise the legal marrying age of 16 for girls and 19 for boys in the 1974 Marriage Law, which 44 years ago was already radical with many girls married at an even younger age. Another attempt to convince the court failed.
The judges, with ears to the moralists, have rejected the arguments of experts, who have shown how child marriage contributes to Indonesia’s high maternal mortality rate and has negatively affected the children of the young parents, as their mothers are not psychologically or physically fit enough to be parents.
The expert witnesses also argued that instead of easing the family’s poverty, as is often the reason cited by parents for marrying off their children early, it actually contributes to inter-generational poverty, as several studies show. Schools usually dismiss students who are pregnant or have married, or the student resigns, thus reducing their chances of gaining enough education and income, particularly for young mothers.
This year, Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Minister Yohana Susana Yembise said the government would increase the legal minimum marriage age.
Unsurprisingly, it is too late. In the Indramayu case, Yeni, not her real name, aged 15, was married to the person suspected of causing her death, identified as D, aged 16. The 1974 Marriage Law allows minors to marry with the consent of parents and the religious court.
The Indramayu Religious Court granted the parents’ request out of concern that the couple might have premarital sex. Later, Yeni had reportedly often complained to her grandmother about her husband’s abusive behavior. The couple’s baby died after a caesarian section.
However tragic, Yeni’s marriage was reportedly only one of 354 dispensations granted to minors in 2016 alone by the regency’s religious court. Statistics Indonesia data show that in 2016, 17 percent of Indonesians were married before they were 18; the Child Protection Law defines children as those under 18.
Like the swift issuance of the 2016 Perppu on chemical castration of convicted rapists of minors, child marriage should be accorded the same treatment, as the National Commission on Violence against Women has reminded us.
Must another child die as a result of violence in her purportedly safe home to wake us up?