The Jakarta Post
Zahra, a 14-year-old junior high school student who hails from the slums of North Jakarta, spoke at a United Nations dialogue about her concerns over child marriage in Indonesia.
“I told the panel about a close friend of mine who got married when she was 14, back in 2015. Her husband was also 14 years old. They got married because she got pregnant,” Zahra told The Jakarta Post by videoconference on Monday.
“Now they are 19, and their [first] child is already 5 years old. They now have three kids,” she added.
Zahra said that she was saddened that her friend had to drop out of school and get married.
“Every child, including girls, has the right to an education and a good future,” she said.
Zahra spoke at the "Intergenerational dialogue on bringing children and young people into the decade of action and delivery", a side event co-hosted by Save the Children and UNICEF during the ongoing UN High-level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development.
The dialogue involved 200 participants, including the ambassadors of Jamaica, Luxembourg and Bulgaria as the cochairs of the Group of Friends of Children and the SDGs, as well as youth representatives from Nepal, Mexico, Albania and Mozambique. The virtual dialogue focused on the role of children and youths as "positive change agents" in achieving the 2030 agenda of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Zahra was originally supposed to fly to the UN Headquarters in New York City to take part in the dialogue, but because of travel restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, the event was held virtually on July 8, Eastern Standard Time.
Zahra gained her platform after winning a competition held by the Indonesia office of Save the Children, the London-based humanitarian organization that focuses on children’s rights and welfare.
The competition showcased the skills and talents of Indonesian children in sports and public speaking, fields in which Zahra excelled.
“Zahra is one of 620 children involved in the Football for Resilience [session], a cooperation between Save the Children with The Arsenal Foundation,” Ratna Yunita, the child rights governance advisor of Save the Children Indonesia, told the Post.
The session is part of the Coaching for Life program and was held in Indonesia and Jordan to build children's resilience in facing a crisis.
“In Indonesia, the program was held in the urban slums of Jakarta, where vulnerable children are faced with violence. The activity was run at seven child-friendly public spaces [RPTRA] in Jakarta,” Ratna said.
After winning the competition, Zahra was flown to Jordan to meet and play soccer with other children who also love the sport at a refugee camp.
“It was my first experience flying on a plane and going abroad,” Zahra said enthusiastically.
Under the organization's guidance, Zahra took part in the Youth Advisory Group, an all-children platform that hold regular discussions on children's welfare and maintain dialogue with relevant stakeholders.
“The Youth Advisory Group will always be involved to give us input so that organizations can always move in line with children’s best interests. Zahra and her peers will always maintain dialogue with policymakers,” Ratna said.
Zahra says that she dreams of becoming a successful businesswoman and that she would continue to actively promote gender equality through soccer.
“I realized that there weren't many girls in [my] neighborhood who liked to play football,” she said. “In this community, many people still believe that football is only for boys, not for girls. Meanwhile, I believe that we have the same rights as boys.”
According to a UNICEF report published in October 2019, Indonesia has the 8th highest number of child marriages in the world, with one in nine women marrying before they turned 18.
Child marriage is part of a negative cycle that perpetuates financial ruin and domestic violence.
According to Girls not Brides, a global initiative that aims to eliminate child marriage, child marriage is driven by gender inequality and the inherent belief that girls were somehow inferior to boys.
In Indonesia and around the world, child marriage is rampant among girls with low education who come from poor households.
Many poor families also believe that marriage is a solution to their financial problems, despite the fact that it will only prolong and worsen their situation. Many families also believe that marrying off their daughters young is a remedy for the social stigma against premarital sex among women and girls, including sexual abuse.
Many girls have been forced to marry their rapist or abuser to wash off the stigma, although doing so only prolongs the victims' trauma. (kes)