Calls are mounting for Indonesia to decisively put an end to child marriages as experts warn the situation has reached emergency proportions. The pressure is on Indonesian President Joko Widodo to fulfil his earlier promise to do something about stopping child marriages “as soon as possible.”
More underage couples are getting married in the recent months, with various reports of girls as young as 14 getting married in Southeast Asia’s largest nation. An Indonesia Government/UNICEF report also says an estimated 17 percent of Indonesian girls were married before the age of 18.
Pressure to end child marriages mounted anew when news and videos of a 14-year-old girl marrying a 15-year-old boy in Sulawesi went viral. Other similar, controversial child marriages followed, making experts panic and describe the situation as alarming.
Now, many are asking President Widodo to speak up and do what’s in his power to stop the phenomenon of child marriages. The legal age for marriage in Indonesia is 19 for men and 16 for girls, but a certain loophole in the law allows an exception for underage couples to still marry if they are given permission by a religious court. Experts say this “religious exception” is being exploited by those who want to marry even if they are still underage.
Widodo, however, holds the power to overrule an existing law by issuing a “Perppu” or presidential decree which he promised last month to hand out in order to put an end to child marriages.
University of Indonesia’s Sulistyowati Irianto said the government if it has enough political will can easily call for a stop in child marriages. Dr. Irianto said: “The President is under pressure because he wants to crack down on this practice, but he is quite aware that politically, it is very sensitive to revise marriage law.”’ Challenging the status quo risks upsetting sections of the religious community, something that might be forcing Widodo to hesitate somewhat in fulfilling his earlier promise of ending child marriages.
The scholar also pointed out that some parents are to be blamed for child marriages as many of them gave their approval based on a crucial, cultural perception of adulthood, believing it started when a girl had her period for the first time.
The fate of child marriages in Muslim-dominant Indonesia is glaringly in the hands of Widodo.