The Jakarta Post
A teenage girl in Indramayu, West Java, has died after allegedly being a victim of domestic abuse in what appears to be a court-approved child marriage, a local advocacy group reports.
Yeni (not her real name) died of her injuries at Indramayu Public Hospital on Sept. 21, said the Indonesia Women Coalition’s (KPI) Indramayu chapter, adding that she had multiple head injuries and wounds all over her body. The post-mortem results have not yet been released.
The coalition alleged that the girl’s husband, identified as D, was responsible for the injuries that led to her death.
“[The post-mortem examination report] isn’t out yet. We’ll continue to check the progress of the case with the police,” KPI Indramayu secretary Yuyun Khoerunisa told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.
“[The husband] was held in police custody for 24 hours but was released due to a lack of evidence,” she said.
A 2012 national survey showed that more than 220,000 girls aged between 15 and 19 had been married at least once in West Java. The number was the second highest after East Java, which had more than 236,000.
In 2011, Plan Indonesia and Gadjah Mada University researched early marriages in eight areas including Indramayu and found that 44 percent of child brides were subjected to frequent abuses in their marriage.
Early marriage to avoid ‘zina’
Yeni was only 15, while D was 16, when their families decided to marry them off out of concern that the lovebirds might commit zina (extramarital sex), which is deemed sinful in Islam.
Their families proceeded with the plan by requesting a marriage dispensation from the Indramayu Religious Court in 2016. The 1974 Marriage Law sets 16 and 19 as the minimum age for females and males to marry, respectively. The panel of judges approved the request.
The newly married couple subsequently lived with the groom’s family. Yeni had lived with her grandmother since she was seven months old. Her father was dead while her mother worked overseas as a migrant worker.
Five months into the marriage, Yeni found out that she was pregnant. In the seventh month, she had to have a caesarian section, but the baby died less than a month after the procedure was performed.
Over the past two years, Yeni often complained to her grandmother about the alleged domestic violence she had suffered throughout her marriage.
“Domestic violence often occurred throughout their marriage but they somehow made up,” Yuyun claimed.
On the the ill-fated day, her grandmother was informed by relatives and neighbors about D’s latest Facebook post, which showed a battered and bruised Yeni. “Do you want to check it out? It’s really bad!” D said in the post as quoted by KPI Indramayu.
Yeni’s grandmother rushed to her in-laws’ house, only to find that her granddaughter had been taken to Indramayu Public Hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 8 p.m.
Her body was immediately taken to her grandmother’s house, where village officials and local police officers waited to take it to the Indramayu Police Hospital for an autopsy. Yeni was laid to rest the next morning.
Indramayu Resort Police chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Yoris Maulana Marzuki said the police were still investigating the case. “We will provide an update as soon as we have one.”
‘The state failed her’
The KPI lamented what appeared to be a systemic failure to protect Yeni from violence that allegedly resulted in her death.
“She could have been saved if she was sent to school and got to play with her friends instead. Not only did the adults fail her, the state also failed her,” KPI West Java chapter secretary Darwinih told the Post.
Child marriage rates in Indramayu remain high. The Indramayu Court granted 287 marriage dispensations last year and 354 in 2016. Most families used religious concerns to justify early marriages.
“In child marriages, the girls are prone to suffer from domestic violence, particularly when they are uneducated and lack knowledge about gender equality,” Yuyun said.
Advocacy groups have called for the revision of the minimum age to marry that was stipulated in the outdated marriage law, believing that child marriages might potentially lead to more complicated issues, including domestic violence.
The Indonesian Child Protection Commission (KPAI) recorded 95 cases of violence related to child marriages in the past eight years, but believed that the reported cases were merely the tip of the iceberg.
“The government should protect our children. We urge the President [Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo] to speed up the discussion of Perppu [government regulation in lieu of law] on child marriages,” Darwinih said.
This article was originally published in The Jakarta Post's print edition on Nov. 22, 2018, with the title "In West Java, child marriage turns fatal".