The government will soon take drastic measures to tackle chronic and acute malnutrition in the country, deemed to have reached a catastrophic level.
Coordinating Human Development and Culture Minister Puan Maharani said on Monday that the government was preparing a regulation that would raise the legal age of marriage for females from 16 to 18.
'We want Indonesian teenagers to at least finish their education first, until high school,' she said on the sidelines of a roundtable discussion at the National Development Planning Board (Bappenas) in Central Jakarta.
Puan reasoned that girls would be more prepared in terms of health if they waited until they were older to tie the knot and have kids.
'We have coordinated with some ministries and of course it's still in process in order to not violate any regulations or customs,' she said. '[But we will implement it] as soon as possible.'
While the legal age of marriage for females is 16, marriage at a younger age is legal with parental consent and judicial approval.
According to data from the Health Ministry in 2010, 41.9 percent of girls between the ages of 15 and 19 were married.
Meanwhile, a National Social and Economic Survey in 2010 showed the average marrying age in Indonesia to be 19.7 years, with those in rural areas getting married once they turned 18.94 years old, on average.
Late last year, several women and children's rights groups campaigners filed a judicial review on the legal marriage age for females at the Constitutional Court. The review centered on a provision in Law No. 1/1974 on marriage that sees 16 years as the minimum age for marriage for females.
The request is aimed at reducing the rate of underage marriage, which is one of the highest in the world and is the second-highest in ASEAN after Cambodia.
The plaintiffs are demanding that the court raise the legal minimum age for marriage for females, as stipulated by the Marriage Law, from 16 to 18 years.
Muslim groups have stood against the proposal, insisting that the minimum age should stay at 16.
International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) senior research fellow Lawrence Haddad, who co-chaired the Global Nutrition Report, welcomed the plan.
'If you can change the law on the legal age of marriage, that would have a massive impact on malnutrition levels,' he said during the discussion on Monday.
Haddad reasoned that young mothers were less ready to provide sufficient nutrition to their children.
'If you look at the data and reports from all different countries, age of first marriage and age of first pregnancy are highly correlated with stunting,' he said.
Officials and academicians have described malnutrition in Indonesia as a catastrophe, with the potential of putting an enormous burden on the country.
Indonesia is among 47 countries out of 122 in the Global Nutrition Report which have both a high stunting rate of 37.2 percent among children and high anemia prevalence, with nearly 40 percent of working women being anemic and another 20 percent vulnerable to iron deficiency.
Indonesia is also among 17 countries out of 117 that simultaneously face three key nutrition problems in children aged under five, namely stunting, wasting and overweight.
'Its [stunting rate] is the same as some African countries and more importantly, the number has been fairly flat for the last five or six years,' Haddad said.
Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) Indonesia health and public-based nutrition project director Minarto said that if the rate of stunting in Indonesia remained at its current rate in the future, then the country would not be able to enjoy a demographic bonus in 2020-2030.
A demographic bonus is a dividend enjoyed by a country when its productive population is larger than its non-productive population.
However, Indonesia's productivity level is currently below most other countries in the region.
'So it's actually not a demographic bonus, but more of a demographic threat. We can say it's a bonus if they're productive and have economic value. But if it's the other way around, then they'll be a burden [for the country],' Minarto told The Jakarta Post.