Uphill battle against child marriage

“If you like each other, the best thing to do is get married so you don’t commit a sin,” stated a married 16-year-old girl in Lamongan, East Java.

A married 17-year-old girl from the same city talked of her shattered dreams: “I thought when I got married, life would be more like I wanted it to be, but it isn’t ever going to be.”

In North Jakarta, a young mother of 15 said, “Of course we regret things, but we can’t change anything. The most important thing is that our kids don’t turn out like us.”

These are excerpts of consultations, jointly conducted by UNICEF and the Purposeful Productions movement focusing on adolescent girls. They aim to hear directly from girls, boys, women and men in Mamuju in West Sulawesi, North Jakarta, and Lamongan, East Java — three places with a high prevalence of child marriage — about why this practice continues and is so pervasive in Indonesia. The three girls are just a few of thousands of others trapped in early union.

Child marriage is common in almost all geographical pockets throughout Indonesia. Rates vary widely across the country and by level of government (province, regency and districts).

According to the 2012 National Socioeconomic Survey, West Sulawesi has the highest prevalence of child marriage at 37.3 percent, followed by Central Kalimantan and Central Sulawesi at 36.7 percent and 34.4 percent, respectively.

Child marriage is as complex as a spider web and has been haunting the lives and futures of Indonesia’s 85 million children. Ending this practice will be an uphill battle for Indonesia unless drastic changes in social behavior are made, with stronger political commitment and the strengthening of legal frameworks in children’s interests.

“This practice continues mostly on the grounds of cultural and religious norms,” said Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Minister Yohana S. Yembise in an interview with The Jakarta Post in conjunction with National Children’s Day, which fell on July 23.

Many Islamic clerics say girls are ready for marriage once they start menstruating, as the Quran does not mention a specific age, while other experts cite verses that indicate that both bride and bridegroom should be mature enough and capable of judgment.

Cultural arguments include parents’ embarrassment when their teenage daughters have no suitors.

Despite modern developments, including more girls having a higher level of education, around one in nine girls marry before the age of 18, making Indonesia one of the top countries in absolute numbers of child brides and the child marriage burden — with about 375 girls marrying daily. Reasons to marry young go deep beyond mutual love, religious and traditional values and socioeconomic condition.

“Child marriage is a fundamental violation of girls’ rights. The practice is largely driven by poverty, a lack of access to education and social norms rooted in the lower status of women and girls here in Indonesia,” the minister said, adding that it also contradicted Indonesia’s efforts to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Goal 5, which includes eliminating all harmful practices of early and forced marriage by 2030.

Child marriage has attracted significant global attention in the last decade in response to growing evidence on the scale and scope of the problem, and is now specifically targeted in the SDGs. For Indonesia, being slow and ineffective in addressing this critical issue will lead to the country’s failure to achieve the SDGs in under 15 years.

Indonesia has ratified the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child through the 2002 Child Protection Law. However, inconsistencies and contradictions remain, as Yohana noted.

“Special considerations need to be taken seriously concerning the contradictions” in the Child Protection Law and Marriage Law, she said. The ministry is organizing a public discussion involving academics, policymakers, members of civil society, religious leaders, women and youth organizations on the issue.

While the 2002 Child Protection Law defines a child as someone below 18, the age of consent to marriage is 16 years for girls and 19 years for boys according to Article 7 of the Marriage Law.

The ministry, she said, has proposed revising the Marriage Law to end cases of child marriage but without success. Probably reflecting on what she said was a “controversial” issue, amendment of the 1974 law was listed in the 2015-2019 legislation program, but not included on the 2018 priority list.

Worse yet, the Marriage Law allows exceptions to the minimum age subject to consent from an appropriate authority, leaving occasion for children to marry legally at an even younger age.

A research report by 18+Coalition and UNICEF, Revealing the Truth of Marriage Dispensation: An Analysis of Child Marriage Practice in Tuban, Bogor and Mamuju Districts ( 2016 ), reveals that the procedure for granting marriage dispensation requests in Indonesia enables multiple interpretations and loopholes.

The report states the marriage dispensation “is fraught with challenges and […] is incompatible with national and international child rights frameworks”.

To end child marriage requires strong political commitment from the country’s top leader. Recently, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo pledged to end child marriage amid mounting pressure.

Since child marriage in Indonesia remains a sensitive issue and is closely linked to religious and traditional norms, interfering with the Marriage Law could bear a political risk for President Jokowi or any other presidential candidates ahead of the 2019 presidential election. However, child marriage should not become a cheap bargaining chip for short-term political interests as it affects the lives of the country’s future generation.

While the focus on ending child marriage is on increasing the minimum age of marriage to 18 years, a broader set of corresponding laws and policies is needed to protect the rights of children and to prevent them from entering child marriage.

Every one of us must support young girls and boys to end this harmful practice so that all children have the right to choose when and whom to marry later in adulthood, and so they can complete their education to reach their utmost potential.

Parents, communities, traditional and religious leaders, the school system, the government, lawmakers and the media must work together in combating child marriage.

The government and lawmakers have the power to develop relevant legislation and policies, allocate available budget resources, monitor implementation and guarantee accountability.

To turn a blind eye to this problem is to endorse the damaging practice. Child marriage is not a child’s responsibility. It is our responsibility.

Prihatin Tingginya Angka Perkawinan Usia Muda, Kemen PPPA Usulkan Revisi UU Perkawinan

TRIBUNNEWS.COM JAKARTA – Kementerian Pemberdayaan Perempuan dan Perlindungan Anak (PPPA) mengusulkan percepatan kebijakan penyusunan revisi UU No.1 Tahun 1974 tentang Perkawinan.

Pasalnya, Yohana Yembise selaku Menteri PPPA mengaku prihatin melihat tingginya angka perkawinan usia anak di Indonesia.

“Tingginya angka perkawinan usia anak tidak terlepas dari rendahnya tingkat pendidikan, tingginya angka kemiskinan, norma sosial budaya yang berlaku, dan ketidaksetaraan gender dalam keluarga,” ujarnya dalam acara Diskusi Media, bertema ‘Perkawinan Usia Anak’ di Millenium Hotel, Jakarta Pusat, Senin (6/8/2018).

Perkawinan usia anak, ujar MenPPPA Yohana, juga identik dengan perjodohan yang dilakukan oleh orang tua dengan alasan ekonomi.

“Anak-anak perempuan dari keluarga miskin berisiko dua kali lebih besar terjerat dalam perkawinan usia anak,” katanya.

Selain itu, merujuk data BPS yang dihimpun Kemen PPPA, satu dari empat anak perempuan di Indonesia telah menikah pada umur kurang dari 18 tahun pada 2008 hingga 2015.

Tercatat, 1.348.886 anak perempuan telah menikah di bawah usia 18 tahun pada 2012. Bahkan setiap tahun, sekitar 300.000 anak perempuan di Indonesia, menikah di bawah usia 16 tahun.

Untuk itu, MenPPPA Yohana mengatakan bahwa substansi penyusunan revisi UU No.1 Tahun 1974 tentang Perkawinan yaitu menaikkan batas usia perkawinan.

“Yaitu di atas usia anak atau 18 tahun dan idealnya di atas 21 tahun, membatasi dispensasi perkawinan, serta menambah pasal upaya pencegahan perkawinan usia anak,” ujarnya.

Untuk mengatasi hal tersebut, Kemen PPPA telah menginisiasi beberapa strategi, di antaranya, Penyusunan kebijakan nasional tentang pencegahan perkawinan anak; Penyusunan rencana menaikkan batas usia perkawinan dan menghapus dispensasi perkawinan; Kampanye ‘Stop Perkawinan Anak’ sejak 2016; Forum Pencegahan Perkawinan Anak yang ditujukan kepada tokoh agama dan guru; Inisiasi perwujudan Kabupaten/Kota Layak Anak (KLA); Mendorong wajib belajar selama 12 tahun dalam kebijakan; Pembentukan Pusat Pembelajaran Keluarga (PUSPAGA); Meningkatkan akses dan kualitas pendidikan anak; Melibatkan anak sebagai Pelopor dan Pelapor (2P); serta menjalin kemitraan dengan lembaga sosial dan dunia usaha.

“Sudah menjadi tanggung jawab kita semua untuk memutus mata rantai perkawinan usia anak,” katanya.

Artikel ini telah tayang di dengan judul Prihatin Tingginya Angka Perkawinan Usia Muda, Kemen PPPA Usulkan Revisi UU Perkawinan,

Editor: Johnson Simanjuntak


Syrian Child Brides Increasingly Contemplate Suicide

Salwa, a 14 year old girl, remembers chugging bleach for as long as she could. She ignored the burn as it went down her throat, and she tuned out the sound of gunshots outside her window.

But Salwa, a Syrian refugee, wasn’t trying to escape the Syrian war — she was trying to escape her forced marriage.

In Lebanon, nearly 40% of young Syrian refugee girls are being married off by impoverished families who erroneously believe that they are protecting their daughters against sexual assault. Often they are wedded off to much older men who rape and beat them if they refuse to sleep with them.

Such was Salwa’s case. Her drunk husband wanted to have sex, but Salwa said she would be right back. She left the room and tried to poison herself.


 “I returned to the bedroom and thought, this will be the last time,” said Salwa. “When I woke up the next morning, I said, ‘F*ck you, God.’”


The Times of Israel reports that this isn’t an isolated case:

Halima’s death certificate says she fell down the stairs. But according to SB Overseas — an NGO working with Syrian refugees across Lebanon, including Halima’s camp — the 13-year-old actually killed herself.

It started one night in October, when she ran away from her abusive husband at a refugee camp outside Beirut. She fled back to her family and asked if they’d help her divorce him. No way, was their answer, she had to stay with him. So, that night, Halima overdosed on pills.

SB Overseas has noticed how common suicide has become among child brides — and how often families lie about it.

“They cannot admit the decision they made led to this result,” said Veronica Lari, a former spokesperson for SB Overseas. “What happens often is girls disappear completely. We know it’s a consequence of the marriage, but we don’t have any data or news from her. And the family says they don’t know anything.”

Hasan Arfeh, a Syrian journalist, has even noticed the same trend in Syria.

“Parents know their daughter committed suicide, but in small communities in Syria, they hide the issue,” Arfeh said. “They feel ashamed of the community around them. They do not offer the body to the forensic doctor, claiming it is the body of a girl and they have the right not to show it.”

In Lebanon, Syrian girls face an uphill battle against forced marriage. There is no minimum age for marriage in the country as the government allows religious parties to decide. On top of this, martial rape is not criminalized.

Lebanon has also created a rule that Syrians can only work in temporary, low-paying sectors including agriculture, construction and cleaning. With families unable to provide for their children, many parents see marriage as a ticket out of poverty.

Monthly cash support from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is one saving grace, but its severely underfunded and only able to reach 13% of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

Until Syrian families find a way out of poverty, the trend of abused child brides turning to suicide will likely continue.

Child brides like Layla, a 16 year Syrian refugee threw herself into a river knowing she couldn’t swim. Her sister managed to save her.

“I thought, ‘I want to die. It’s better than living this miserable life,’” said Layla.


Korban Kawin Anak: “Kami Butuh Ijazah, Bukan Buku Nikah”


Data UNICEF tahun 2017 menunjukkan lebih dari 700 juta perempuan di seluruh dunia saat ini menikah ketika masih anak-anak. Agama, tradisi, kemiskinan, ketidaksetaraan gender dan ketidakamanan karena konflik menjadi alasan utama tingginya jumlah perkawinan anak.

Indonesia merupakan negara ketujuh dengan tingkat perkawinan anak tertinggi di dunia. Menjelang Hari Perempuan Internasional 8 Maret, VOA Siaran Indonesia akan menurunkan beberapa laporan terkait hal tersebut. Dalam laporan pertama hari ini, Eva Mazrieva melaporkan tentang kondisi muram di Indonesia dan bagaimana lembaga-lembaga swadaya masyarakat lewat berbagai cara mengatasi perkawinan anak.

“Saya merasa ketika itu menikah tidak seindah yang digambarkan pada saya. Tidak seperti yang saya bayangkan. Saya sering bertengkar dengan suami karena hal-hal sepele, misalnya beda pendapat atau tidak ada uang, atau beda keinginan, atau karena adanya orang ketiga – yaitu mertua atau tetangga – yang selalu ikut campur dalam urusan rumah tangga saya. Suami suka memukul. Saya saat itu juga tidak tahu bagaimana mengurus anak. Beberapa tahun setelah menikah saya punya bayi dan saya bingung karena tidak tahu harus bagaimana. Suami juga waktu itu tidak bekerja dan hanya mengandalkan pemberian orang tuanya yang hanya cukup untuk sehari-hari saja.”

Demikian penuturan Megawati, korban perkawinan anak di desa Pijot, kecamatan Keruak, kabupaten Lombok Timur, Nusa Tenggara Barat. Adat istiadat setempat yang mendorong anak perempuan usia 14 dan 15 tahun menikah muda, membuat keluarga Megawati menikahkannya ketika berusia 16 tahun.

“Saya pun sudah dianggap ketuaan (terlalu Saya menikah usia 16 tahun karena di desa saya itu anak-anak gadis harus menikah pada usia 14-15 tahun, kalau terlambat terus jadi pergunjingan. Saya sempat dianggap telat menikah dan tiap hari diolok-olok, dianggap “gak laku”, “ketuaan”. Memang sudah budayanya begitu Mbak. Dulu kami tidak bisa menolak jadi mau tidak mau saya harus menikah, atau jadi pergunjingan di desa. Mempermalukan keluarga begitu,” tambahnya.

Indonesia, Negara Ketujuh dengan Jumlah Kawin Anak Tertinggi di Dunia

Megawati merupakan potret suram sebagian anak perempuan di Indonesia, negara dengan angka perkawinan anak tertinggi ketujuh di dunia, dimana satu dari lima perempuan yang berusia 20-24 tahun telah melakukan perkawinan pertama sebelum usia 18 tahun. Survei UNICEF menunjukkan bahwa agama, tradisi, kemiskinan, ketidaksetaraan gender dan ketidakamanan karena konflik merupakan alasan utama tingginya jumlah perkawinan anak.

Sosiolog di Universitas Indonesia Dr. Ida Ruwaida menyoroti kuatnya budaya patriarki yang membuat posisi perempuan sangat lemah.

“Budaya patriarki yang masih kuat dianut menempatkan posisi tawar perempuan lebih rendah dan lebih lemah. Selain itu juga ditopang oleh kultur kolektivitas yang masih kuat. Sebagai ilustrasi, masih hidup dan bertahannya praktek perjodohan oleh kerabat dan tokoh agama – di suatu wilayah perbatasan Jawa Timur dan Jawa Tengah – yang membuat anak tidak mampu menolak perjodohan itu. Bahkan orang tua dan keluarga si anak pun cenderung tidak berdaya. Di Jawa Barat, faktor ekonomi yang menjadi pendorongnya,” kata Ida.

Ida Ruwaida, yang memusatkan pada studi sosiologi gender, mengatakan di sebagian daerah lain, gabungan faktor budaya dan agama memperumit isu perkawinan anak.

‘’Sulitnya mengubah hal ini karena budaya dikaitk dengan agama. Di wilayah Papua dan NTT, faktor dominan terjadinya kawin anak adalah budaya dan adat. Sementara di wilayah lain yang umumnya beragama Islam, faktor budaya ini berkelindan dengan agama,” tukasnya.

Sejumlah ibu di Lombok Timur, NTB, belajar di “Sekolah Perempuan” tentang berbagai isu kesetaraan perempuan, kesehatan reproduksi, jaminan sosial hingga isu perkawinan anak. (Courtesy: Institut Kapal Perempuan)

Prevalensi Pernikahan Anak Turun

Menurut data yang dirilis UNICEF, Selasa (6/3), prevalensi pernikahan anak secara global menurun. Beberapa negara bahkan mengalami penurunan signifikan. Secara keseluruhan proporsi perempuan yang menikah ketika masih anak-anak turun 15 persen dalam sepuluh tahun terakhir. Dari 1 pada 4 perempuan, menjadi 1 pada lima perempuan.

Asia Selatan juga merasakan penurunan terbesar angka pernikahan anak dalam sepuluh tahun terakhir ini. Risiko anak perempuan yang dinikahkan sebelum usia 18 tahun turun lebih dari sepertiga, dari hampir 50 persen menjadi 30 persen, sebagian besar karena kemajuan yang luar biasa di India. Meningkatnya pendidikan bagi anak perempuan, investasi proaktif pemerintah pada remaja perempuan, pesan yang kuat tentang praktik perkawinan anak ilegal dan dampak yang ditimbulkan merupakan faktor yang mendorong keberhasilan menurunkan angka pernikahan anak.

Ratusan Juta Perempuan Nikah Sebelum Usia 18 Tahun

Menurut data baru UNICEF, jumlah anak perempuan yang dinikahkan ketika masih anak-anak mencapai 12 juta per tahun. Angka baru ini menunjukkan akumulasi pengurangan global angka pernikahan sekitar 25 juta lebih sedikit dibanding yang diantisipasi sepuluh tahun lalu. Namun untuk benar-benar mengakhiri praktik ini pada 2030 – sesuai target yang ditetapkan dalam Tujuan Pembangunan Berkelanjutan (SDG’) harus tetap dilakukan percepatan upaya menurunkan perkawinan anak, karena tanpa hal itu akan ada tambahan 150 juta perkawinan sebelum usia 18 tahun pada 2030.

Di seluruh dunia diperkirakan ada 650 juta perempuan yang menikah ketika masih anak-anak. Penurunan terbesar dalam sepuluh tahun terakhir terjadi di Asia Selatan, namun peningkatan terjadi di sub-Sahara Afrika, yang kini menjadi 1 dari 3 anak perempuan, dibanding sepuluh tahun lalu yang 1 dari 5 anak perempuan.

Aktivis dan Guru Selesaikan Isu Pernikahan Anak

Beberapa tahun terakhir ini sejumlah aktivis dan organisasi swadaya masyarakat berinisiatif untuk bekerja langsung di daerah-daerah terpencil dimana jumlah pernikahan anak paling banyak terjadi.

Institut Kapal Perempuan yang dikomandoi Misi Misiyah membuka “Sekolah Perempuan” yang mendidik para perempuan yang selama ini tidak berani bersuara, dan sebagian diantaranya bahkan buta baca tulis. Guna mendorong mereka berani menyampaikan isi pikiran, “Sekolah Perempuan” membatasi jumlah laki-laki yang ingin bergabung menjadi hanya 10-20 persen saja.

“Ini memang standar yang kami patok karena 20 persen laki-laki pun sangat menguasai forum, padahal kita ingin para perempuan ini punya keleluasaan untuk bicara dan berpikir, dan mengurangi ketidakpercayaan diri ketika harus berhadapan dengan laki-laki. Saya mendapati banyak perempuan mundur ketika belum apa-apa sudah berhadapan dengan laki-laki dalam jumlah banyak dan suaranya menguasai forum,” ujar Misi Misiyah.

“Sekolah Perempuan” Didik Perempuan di Alam Terbuka

Proses pendidikan juga tidak dilakukan di dalam ruang, tetapi di alam terbuka, misalnya di pinggir sawah, di sawung, di tepi sungai atau pantai, atau di halaman rumah atau balai desa.

“Pertama, belajar dari alam yang seadanya tidak berarti membuat orang tidak bisa membuat apa-apa. Metode-metode di luar kelas membuat situasi lebih informal dan orang lebih leluasa membangun gagasan dan kepercayaan diri. Kedua, memberi “pelajaran” kepada pemerintah yang semestinya aware dengan proses pendidikan sepanjang hayat dan memberikan fasilitas serta kesempatan pada mereka dalam program-program pemerintah, karena program ini ada tetapi tidak bisa diakses oleh orang-orang paling miskin, terutama perempuan,” imbuh Misi.

Para perempuan yang sebagian besar di antaranya buta baca tulis dan bahkan tidak pernah bicara di depan publik, didorong mengemukakan pendapat di “Sekolah Perempuan” di NTB. (Courtesy : Institut Kapal Perempuan)

Korban Pernikahan Anak Kini Jadi Aktivis dan Juru Kampanye

Sebagian perempuan yang belajar di “Sekolah Perempuan” ini adalah korban perkawinan anak yang kemudian dilatih menjadi aktivis. Diantaranya Megawati, korban perkawinan anak yang kini tidak saja ikut berkampanye menolak perkawinan anak di desa-desa NTB, tetapi bahkan berani mendatangi keluarga yang diketahui akan menikahkan anak perempuannya pada usia dini.

“Kalau saran saya.. sekolahkan dulu anaknya. Kita butuh ijazah bukan buku nikah! Sekolahkan dia setinggi-tingginya, jangan seperti saya. Dulu sebenarnya orang tua saya ingin saya sekolah, tetapi keadaan berkata lain, saya harus mengikuti tradisi dan adat di desa saya. Ijazah lebih penting untuk masa depan, tapi buku nikah gampang saja. Bahkan kalau sudah S1, S2, dan S3 kita bisa mendapatkan buku nikah, bahkan memilih siapa yang kawin dengan kita, bukankah begitu. Tapi kalau sekarang, jika kita butuh ijazah setelah menikah, tidak mungkin. Apalagi banyak diantara kita yang baru beberapa minggu atau beberapa bulan sudah bercerai. Bagaimana mungkin kita mendapatkan ijazah,” tukas Megawati.

Guru Datangi Keluarga yang Ingin Kawinkan Anak Perempuan

Upaya serupa juga dilakukan Dian Misastra, guru di Tegalwaru, Jawa Barat yang mendatangi rumah siswi yang diketahui akan dinikahkan. Henny Soepolo, Ketua Yayasan Cahaya Guru, suatu LSM yang memberikan pelatihan para guru, menyampaikan hal ini.

“Ada satu sekolah dasar di mana 50% siswa perempuan tidak melanjutkan ke SMP. Mereka hanya ditunggu lulus SD dan kemudian dikawinkan. Pak Dian ini datang dari satu rumah ke rumah lain, melakukan sosialisasi dengan mengajak orang tua berpikir panjang dengan pertanyaan2 antara lain : jika kamu mengawinkan anakmu, berapa mulut yang berkurang untuk diberi makan? OK berkurang satu. Tapi kalau anakmu cerai – karena memang angka perceraian tinggi – lalu anakmu pulang kembali ke rumah, maka berapa mulut yang kini harus diberi makan? Cukup anakmu saja atau anakmu plus cucumu? Jadi berapa uang yang kamu habiskan. (Argumen) Ini jadi lebih make sense. Yang menarik dengan pendekatan dari rumah ke rumah ini, pada tahun 2011 sudah 100 persen anak di SD di mana Pak Dian ini mengajar, akhirnya anak perempuan melanjutkan pendidikan ke SMP. Artinya orang tua bisa jadi terbiasa mengambil jalan pintas tanpa berpikir panjang. Mereka tidak berpikir bahwa kalau anak perempuannya dikawinkan, tidak saja berpotensi berkurangnya jumlah mulut yang dikasih makan, tetapi juga berpotensi anak bercerai dan pulang dengan membawa cucu sehingga justru bertambah mulut yang diberi makan. Pendekatan ini menarik dan saya kira seharusnya bisa menjadi gerakan bersama,” ujar Henny.

Perempuan-perempuan yang sebagian besar di antaranya buta baca tulis dan bahkan tidak pernah bicara di depan publik, didorong mengemukakan pendapat di “Sekolah Perempuan” di NTB. (Courtesy: Institut Kapal Perempuan)

“Ibu Nyai’’ Pasang Badan Lindungi Anak Perempuan yang akan Dikawinkan

Pendekatan serupa juga dilakukan di Lombok dan Madura. Aktivis perempuan yang juga peneliti gender dan Islam, serta pendiri ‘’Rumah Kita Bersama’’ atau kerap disebut ‘’Rumah Kitab’’, Lies Marcoes-Natsir menyampaikan hal ini.

“Di Lombok, di Madura dan beberapa daerah lain, “Ibu Nyai” (istri kiai yang memimpin suatu pesantren) bisa menjadi orang yang pasang badan ketika berhadapan dengan kultur dan orang tua yang memaksa anak untuk kawin. Ibu Nyai yang bernegosiasi dengan orang tua di setiap semester, ketika mereka datang untuk menjemput anaknya dari pesantren. Ketika mereka menjemput, Ibu Nyai biasanya sudah curiga bahwa “pasti anak akan dikawinkan”. Nah si Ibu Nyai ini kemudian tidak saja bernegosiasi dengan orang tua, tetapi juga dengan komunitas masyarakat di mana orang tua berada, yang mengkondisikan kawin anak itu. Bagusnya di pesantren – dan berbeda dengan sekolah umum – biasanya di akhir negosiasi, jika si Ibu Nyai “kalah”, ia akan mengijinkan anak dijemput untuk dikawinkan, tetapi mendesak supaya anak diijinkan kembali lagi untuk menyelesaikan pendidikannya. Artinya sang anak tetap bisa melanjutkan sekolah. Ini masih lebih baik karena biasanya masalah utama yang dihadapi anak yang dikawinkan muda itu adalah mereka jadi berhenti sekolah. (Berarti pesantren dalam hal ini jauh lebih moderat dibanding sekolah umum karena tetap mau menerima kembali anak-anak untuk bersekolah meski sudah dikawinkan?) Betul! Karena otoritanya ada pada Ibu Nyai dan Kyai di pesantren. Pertanyaannya kini adalah berapa besar kapasitas yang dimiliki para tokoh ini untuk mencegah perkawinan anak? Berapa banyak anak yang bisa ia lindungi setiap tahun?,” tutur Lies.

Misi Misiyah, Henny Soepolo dan Lies Marcoes-Natsir tidak menunggu pemerintah. Itikad serius untuk mengakhiri masalah perkawinan anak mendorong mereka menemukan cara dan metode beragam untuk menyelesaikan isu ini, langsung di daerah-daerah dengan tingkat perkawinan anak tertinggi di Indonesia. [em/al]


Dilema Hukum Dalam Kawin Anak

KOMPAS, 6 Februari 2018 – Dalam pencegahan perkawinan anak di Indonesia, aspek hukum tampaknya menjadi titik paling lemah. Pada praktiknya isbat nikah (menikah kembali di depan pejabat negara) atau dispensasi nikah merupakan peluang perkawinan anak yang semula ilegal menjadi legal. Lebih dari itu, keduanya merupakan bentuk pengakuan diam-diam atas praktik hukum non-negara yang seharusnya secara tegas dinyatakan ilegal dan bersanksi hukum bagi pelanggarnya.

Secara historis, eksistensi hukum non-negara, seperti hukum adat dan agama, tak lepas dari fakta kekayaan hukum yang hidup di Indonesia sejak sebelum kolonialis membawa konsep hukum sebagai konsekuensi dari negara modern.

Para penasihat negara jajahan seperti Snouck Hurgronje, terlebih ahli hukum Islam, Van den Berg, memberi jaminan bahwa penerapan hukum adat dan agama oleh warga jajahan tak akan memicu pemberontakan.

Sebaliknya pemerintah penjajah dapat memperoleh empati dan memanfaatkannya sebagai bentuk tindakan etis kepada warga jajahan. Oleh karena itu, kemudian muncul istilah pluralisme hukum, sebuah bentuk pengakuan kepada praktik hukum adat dan hukum agama, terutama untuk isu keluarga, termasuk perkawinan, warisan, dan wakaf.

Dominasi dan tirani hukum

Di era Orde Baru, upaya untuk tetap memberlakukan hukum adat dan agama sebagai sumber hukum yang setara dengan hukum negara terus diadvokasikan. Terutama dalam kaitannya untuk perlindungan kepada kelompok adat yang mempertahankan hukum adat mereka untuk melindungi hak ulayat/komunal atas tanah adat. Para aktivis memperjuangkan keberlakuan pluralisme hukum untuk menghindari kesewenang-wenangan dan dominasi hukum yang dimanfaatkan untuk pencaplokan tanah adat atas nama konsesi.

Nuansa politik yang mendasarinya jelas berbeda. Jika pada masa kolonial pluralisme hukum diberlakukan dalam rangka penjinakan kepada warga bumiputra, dalam era Orde Baru keragaman hukum merupakan bentuk perlindungan kepada suku dan kelompok adat yang sangat rentan terhadap okupasi negara atas nama pembangunan ekonomi.

Namun, dalam kaitannya dengan hukum keluarga, negara berusaha melakukan unifikasi hukum melalui Undang-Undang Perkawinan (UUP) No 1 Tahun 1974 dan penerapan Kompilasi Hukum Islam (KHI) melalui Instruksi Presiden No 1 Tahun 1991. Melalui kedua peraturan itu, warga negara, tak terkecuali umat Islam, diwajibkan tunduk kepada hukum nasional sekaligus menegaskan otoritas hukum negara atas hukum agama.

Berbeda dari isu agraria, di mana pluralisme hukum diupayakan dan dibela oleh para aktivis keadilan dalam rangka melindungi suku asli dan kelompok adat yang benar-benar tergantung kepada alam, dalam isu keluarga, pluralisme hukum  yang memberi ruang kepada hukum adat dan agama (fikih) sebenarnya tak menjadi agenda perjuangan. Sebaliknya para aktivis hukum lebih bersetuju pada adanya pengaturan yang diterapkan negara.

Dalam konteks ini Prof Barry Hooker, ahli mengenai hukum Islam dari Australia, kemudian memperkenalkan konsep hukum besar dan hukum kecil untuk membedakan tingkatan sumber hukum antara hukum negara dan hukum agama (fikih) dalam menyelesaikan perkara keluarga. Bagi Hooker, yang terpenting hukum yang kecil harus tunduk kepada hukum yang besar.

Pandangan seperti ini sebenarnya telah pula diberlakukan melalui undang-undang yang mewajibkan keberlakuan hierarki hukum di mana Undang-Undang Dasar (UUD) 1945 dan hukum nasional harus menjadi pokok landasan hukum dan UU atau peraturan yang ada di bawahnya. Dengan hierarki itu, hukum adat/agama tidak dibenarkan bertentangan dengan keputusan atau hukum negara yang berposisi di atasnya.

Namun, tampaknya, dalam debat-debat teori pluralisme hukum sama sekali tak terbayangkan bahwa hukum komunal/hukum adat/hukum agama bisa digdaya menghadapi hukum negara yang dibangun oleh konsep negara modern pascakolonial.

Pengakuan akan keberlakuan pluralisme hukum yang semula bertujuan untuk memberi pengakuan dan proteksi kepada hukum komunal/hukum adat/hukum agama agar tak terintimidasi atau tertindas oleh hukum negara bisa berbalik menjadi dominasi hukum atau minimal kontestasi hukum. Hal yang tak diperhitungkan adalah lanskap di mana tatanan hukum itu membutuhkan prasyarat.

Pluralisme hukum meniscayakan hanya bisa diterapkan dalam masyarakat yang demokratis, egaliter, mengandalkan filsafat hukum bukan semata keyakinan,  dan diterapkan dalam relasi-relasi sosial yang setara atau bercita-cita setara.  Sebaliknya, dalam masyarakat yang tidak egaliter, tidak demokratis, tidak percaya kepada kesetaraan, konsep pularisme hukum bisa menjadi tirani. Hukum yang kecil ternyata dapat memenjarakan hukum yang besar.

Hal ini disebabkan oleh adanya kontestasi hukum di mana hukum agama diposisikan lebih utama ketimbang hukum negara, dengan alasan sumber hukumnya lebih sakral. Hal ini terbukti dari pembenaran praktik kawin anak yang selalu kembali ke sumber hukum teks fikih dan ini diterima sebagai hukum.

Untuk mengatasi persoalan ini, sebagaimana diusulkan Prof Sulistyowati Irianto dari Universitas Indonesia, pluralisme hukum seharusnya terbuka pada hukum-hukum baru dan global seperti konvensi-konvensi internasional yang berbasis hak asasi manusia (HAM) sekaligus sebagai alat koreksi terhadap hukum adat bilamana terbukti mencederai rasa keadilan.

Tidak tegas soal batas usia

Dalam kaitannya dengan upaya menolak praktik kawin anak; konvensi hak anak, konvensi antidiskriminasi terhadap perempuan harus menjadi landasan hukum yang lebih kuat.

Stjin van Huis, peneliti tentang hukum keluarga Islam  dari Belanda, melalui penelitiannya di Peradilan Agama di Cianjur dan Bulukumba, mengatakan bahwa dalam kaitannya dengan perkawinan anak, hukum yang hidup di masyarakat termasuk norma-norma tetap bisa menjadi rujukan hakim dalam memberikan dispensasi asal ada ketegasan soal batasan umur minimal.

Masalahnya, di Indonesia tidak ada batas usia minimum untuk pengajuan dispensasi sehingga diskresi pemberian dispensasi sangat besar. Dengan demikian, pada kasus perkawinan anak, negara tampaknya tidak memiliki ketegasan dalam mengimplementasikan batas usia seperti yang diatur dalam UU Perkawinan. Ini menunjukkan peran hukum agama yang berlaku dalam masyarakat di luar hukum negara masih sangat besar atau bahkan semakin besar mengiringi lanskap politik keagaan di ruang publik yang makin konservatif.

Padahal, sebagaimana ditegaskan Michael Pelatz dalam bukunya, Islamic Modern: Religious Courts and Cultural Politics in Malaysia, hukum keluarga serta implementasinya oleh pengadilan agama sebagai institusi negara yang berwenang sangat penting keberadaannya untuk menciptakan warga negara modern (national citizens) yang merujuk pada hukum nasional dan hak-hak individual; dan pada waktu yang sama dapat membebaskan individu—khususnya perempuan— dari ikatan primordial suku, adat istiadat, etnisitas, dan jender yang dipandangnya tidak adil.

Lies Marcoes  Koordinator Program Berdaya, Rumah KitaB

Merebut Tafsir: Kelembagaan Penopang Kawin Anak

Perbaikan regulasi seperti menaikkan usia kawin adalah usaha penting tapi tetap tak menyasar akar masalah. Penelitian Rumah KitaB berulang kali membuktikan tentang kelembagaan penopang kawin anak. Dari semua kelembagaan yang terlibat dalam proses perkawinan anak, tak satu pun yang menggunakan sistem hukum atau pengetahuan adat mereka guna untuk mencegah peristiwa itu. Tiadanya upaya untuk menolak atau mencegah perkawinan anak oleh kelembagaan-kelembagaan hukum atau kultural di tingkat desa, sesungguhnya bisa dibaca bahwa dalam upaya-upaya pencegahan itu, mereka anggap tidak (akan) menguntungkan baik finansial maupun moral.

Sebaliknya, ketika perhelatan itu bisa digelar tak peduli kawin bocah, sesederhana apapun perhelatan itu, para pihak yang terlibat, minimal akan mendapatkan makanan selamatan, rokok, upah dan ungkapan terima kasih. Hal yang utama adalah mereka merasa telah menjadi penyelamat muka keluarga dan dusun.

Di dalam situasi itu kita melihat bahwa perkawinan anak bukan hanya disebabkan oleh kemiskinan secara fisik dan karenanya setiap pergerakan uang sekecil apapun dari terjadinya perkawinan anak adalah rejeki, tetapi juga miskin imaginasi dan pemahaman tentang sistem hukum serta imbalan yang akan diterima oleh kelembagaan-kelembagaan itu jika berhasil mencegahnya.

Upaya untuk memberi manfaat langsung atau nilai keuntungan bagi mereka yang mencegah perkawinan anak harus lebih nyata, bukan lagi sekedar imbalan moril. Bisakan pahala sorga bagi mereka yang berhasil mencegah kawin anak jadi materi khutbah, materi ceramah, materi dakwah dan materi jihad? [Lies Marcoes]


In Indonesia, educating child brides remains a tough challenge

A groundbreaking report by UNICEF and the Indonesian government found that girls marrying before the age of 18 were at least six times less likely to complete senior secondary education compared to their unmarried peers.

SUMENEP REGENCY, Indonesia: Every morning, Dewi Khalifah greets students at the Islamic boarding school she runs, as they make their way to class.

The school, Aqidah Usymuni, is currently home to about 800 boys and girls who are housed on separate properties.

Lessons are held from 7am until 1pm, followed by Quranic studies at 3pm.

Students conclude the day with further religious studies before turning in for the night.

A student greets Dewi Khalifah in the morning. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

But this school isn’t like other schools in East Java province’s Sumenep Regency.

In fact, it is one of a handful of schools in the regency which encourages students to pursue their studies instead of getting married before the age of 18 – something that close to 70 per cent of the people in the regency have done, according to research done in June by an non-government organisation, the Rumah Kita Bersama Foundation.


Child marriage is rampant in Indonesia.

A report launched in July this year by the government of Indonesia and UNICEF showed that over one in four girls married before reaching adulthood.

The report is the first of its kind for the country – it uses government data to set a baseline for monitoring progress on key sustainable development goals and targets for Indonesia’s 84 million children.

It showed that girls marrying before the age of 18 were at least six times less likely to complete senior secondary education compared to their unmarried peers.

Lessons are held from seven in the morning until one in the afternoon. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

It is also not uncommon to see child brides in Indonesia being discriminated against in schools.

Local media carry reports of students being turned away from public schools upon their marriage, despite no official laws requiring them to do so.

Experts in Madura’s salt-producing Sumenep Regency tell Channel NewsAsia that such is the situation in the regency as well.

There is also the issue of deep-rooted patriarchal views, which place women in a domestic setting, thus restricting child brides from continuing their education if they marry young.


According to Lies Marcoes Natsir, executive director for the Rumah Kita Bersama Foundation, facts on the ground have shown that if a girl marries before completing high school, chances are, she may never go on to complete it.

This is contrary to the way boys in the same situation are treated, who are still able to continue their studies post-marriage.

“Well it’s different; I will stop studying after I complete high school … I would’ve liked to have gone to college if I didn’t marry. But because I am married, I can’t,” said Sariyatun with a laugh.

The 17-year-old is joined by her friends as she shares her experiences, several of whom are younger than her and married, just like her.

The girls are all students at the Mambaul Ulum Institution, an institution in Sumenep that doesn’t believe children should stop studying simply because of marriage.

The Mambaul Ulum Institute has a total of about 200 students. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

The institution admits not just boys who are married but girls as well.

“They can study here on the condition that they are not pregnant. What happens then if they become pregnant? Well, we exempt them until they give birth,” said Fathol Haliq, founder of the Mambaul Ulum Foundation.

After a girl delivers her baby, she can come back to the school and complete earning her diploma, which she can then use to get a job in the event that she has an opportunity to work.

“We are providing them with an alternative means of education to empower them, so that they do not become victims of the cultural system that is deeply rooted in the practice,” Fathol added.

Founder of the Mambaul Ulum Institute, Fathol Haliq, speaks to a student. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani)

Over at Aqidah Usymuni, the efforts are slightly different, but the goals are the same – that a girl shouldn’t have to give up education over matrimony – but not every parent is comfortable with that idea.

“In Sumenep, everyone is afraid of remaining unmarried,” said Sumarni, whose daughter is a student at the school and recently turned 17 years old.

“By 17, girls themselves want to be married. I also have plans to marry my daughter off; I want to get her engaged, but Dewi Khalifah says my daughter is to continue studying at the boarding school, she can’t marry yet.”

Dewi took over managing the Islamic boarding school from her mother, who established the school to empower women. She explained that her mother was married off at 10 years old, and at that time the culture in Sumenep forbade women from obtaining an education.

Her mother sought to make a difference, and Dewi herself actively encourages her students to continue their studies and refrain from marrying as well, until they are at the very least 18 years of age.

Students who do get married receive support.

Aqidah Usymuni is the only Islamic boarding school in the entire regency which provides scholarships for children who marry, so that they may continue their education even after their nuptials.

Girls at Aqidah Usymuni make their way to class. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

The scholarship has greatly benefitted students like Ahmad Dardiri and his wife Misnama.

The two married young – he at 18 and her, at 16. The policy allows the couple to not only pursue their education, but to do it together.

“Traditionally in Madura, if you have to pay a fee to study and if you have to choose one between husband and wife, the husband is prioritised,” said Ahmad.

“A wife is still synonymous with the kitchen, you know; it’s only the husband who can continue his education, so we are breaking this ‘Madura culture’.”

Ladies with food baskets balancing on their heads carry supplies into the Aqidah Usymuni Islamic boarding school’s girl’s wing. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

Tradition dictates that a woman’s place is at home, caring for her husband and children.

Completely erasing the patriarchal culture painted in tradition isn’t possible, lamented Dewi, as there are a number of factors dictating its practice including economic conditions, which also influence how families conduct themselves.

“Because once a girl is married, she isn’t her family’s responsibility anymore,” said Ms Dewi.

The educational background of parents also matter, particularly if they come from lower-educated backgrounds.

“They feel that, ‘I got married as a child so why shouldn’t my child do the same?’” Dewi said. “It saddens my heart that they still enforce this practice on their children.”


Reports published last year by the National Statistics Agency supported by UNICEF showed that women who were married between the ages of 15 and 19 had a lower level of school participation compared to those who weren’t married.

Indonesia has committed to achieving its Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, its aims include eliminating all harmful practices against girls and women including child marriage.

The report launched by the government of Indonesia and UNICEF showed that 12 per cent of women – 1.2 million – nationwide aged 20-24 years were married or in union before the age of 18 in 2015.

A group of married girls sit together at Mambaul Ulum Institute after speaking to Channel NewsAsia. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

Earlier this year, Marta Santos Pais, special representative of the UN Secretary General on Violence Against Children met with President Joko Widodo and several ministers at the State Palace in Jakarta.

Pais discussed children’s protection from violence and its role in national development, and raised the issue of child marriage.

Minister of Education and Culture, Muhadjir Effendy who was reportedly present at that meeting, explained that the government has a 12-year compulsory education programme in place.

He told reporters after the meeting that this was one way the government is trying to curb child marriage.

Effendy said the ideal age for someone to marry was above the age of 17 – this way, a boy or girl who completed the compulsory 12-year education programme would automatically be 18 years old.

Bringing the issue to public notice is one way to overcome it, but a more definitive solution would be to legally revise the rules of marriage and keep children in school for a longer period of time, according to observers.

“There should be local regulations governed by the executive and legislative branch that children should no longer marry at the age of 16 or 18; but at the very minimum, they should possess a college degree,” said Aqidah Usymuni’s Dewi.


‘It’s tradition’: The child brides of Indonesia’s Sumenep Regency

SUMENEP REGENCY, Indonesia: Bold makeup in hues of red and black lined their eyes, hair adorned with buds of jasmine, a bejewelled golden plate rested upon their foreheads, while more gold complemented vibrant clothing cinched at their waists.

Their small hands were intricately lined with a type of dye resembling henna; and while they looked like miniature human dolls, their faces were glum.

Shifty-eyed, fidgety and trying to keep their nervousness in check, these are the child brides and grooms of Sumenep Regency at their wedding.

Both the brides and grooms have bold makeup on their faces. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

Getting to Sumenep is no easy feat. The regency is 170km away from Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city, on the island of Madura.

You’ll have to fly from Jakarta to Surabaya, which could take anywhere between 75 and 90 minutes and then embark on a four-hour drive; this is how we found ourselves driving into the regency one morning, passing dozens of salt farms along the way.


The children, six of them, were at their wedding reception being held at a field with a large tent in the district of Dungkek.

According to guests, the children had just married that morning – the oldest was a fourteen-year-old boy who married a 13-year-old; the youngest, a four-year-old child, was wed to a five-year-old boy, and the last couple were a pair of six-year-olds.

Parents of the brides and grooms took turns between standing at the entrance of the tent to welcome guests and accompany their children, who sat quietly on the sidelines of a feast held in their honour.

The youngest child at the wedding reception was a 4 year-old girl. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

Alimatus Sadya, a mother of one of the brides explained that child marriage is commonplace in Madura.

“If anyone asks for the hand of your first child in marriage, you have to agree,” she said.

Her daughter, the oldest bride at thirteen years old, lurched forward and retched as she struggled to keep her emotions at bay. She was quickly pacified by Ms Alimatus and others around her.

The space under the tent was divided into two sections, one for men and the other for women.

Plush velvet sofas with golden frames sat atop a stage on one end. This is where guests were taking photos with the newlyweds prior to the feast.

A 13-year old child bride attempts to hide her emotions at by the side of her stage at her wedding reception. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

A band positioned at the centre of the tent played traditional music and female dancers were putting on a show for the men, dancing closely with them while being showered with rupiah bills.

A group of men and women in each section were also huddled together as they made a note of every gift that the families of the children received, both of monetary and non-monetary value.

Another parent, Fitri, who goes by one name as many Indonesians do, explained that the children had been matched by their parents – her son and daughter had both been married off.

“Well, over here it’s like that, they’re married off at a young age; it’s tradition,” she said with a laugh. “I am so happy.”


In 2016, the National Statistics Agency supported by UNICEF launched two reports on child marriage.

The report showed that the rate of child marriage in Indonesia remains high, with over one in four girls marrying before reaching adulthood.

Based on data from 2008 to 2015, the percentage of “ever-married” women aged 20 to 24 who married before the age of 18 across 33 provinces in Indonesia ranked by average prevalence, placed West Sulawesi in the top spot, while East Java ranked 14th.

Research done in June this year by an NGO, the Rumah Kita Bersama Foundation, showed that close to 70 per cent of the people in Madura’s Sumenep regency married before the age of 18.

The district of Dungkek had the highest number of child marriages in the regency, with about 80 per cent of its nearly 4,000 people – as per national population records in 2015 – having married as children.

Executive director for the foundation, Lies Marcoes Natsir, said that in Sumenep, it is usually because parents want a debt repaid.

“The people have a tradition, usually if they throw a party, they receive a lot of support from their neighbours – and this is a reciprocal occurrence, actually,” she explained.

Guests lay money on the floor for dancers at the wedding reception of the six children. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

“So, they can throw a party because other people owe them a debt. Now, this has been in practice for a very long time, their ancestors did this and they always make a note,” said Lies.

“So if one family has a child, and they feel they want to collect what is owed to them from their neighbours – to whom they have already provided some sort of support – ‘tumpangan’ is what they call it – they will organise the marriage of their child, even if the child is still little.”

According to Lies, one of Indonesia’s foremost experts in Islam and gender as well as a women’s rights activist, the goal is to collect a debt.

So, in the event of a drought for example, or in times of financial difficulty, families tend to get their children betrothed and organise a party.

A guest at the wedding reception showers a dancer with rupiah bills. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

In the case of younger children, the marriage is known as a “hanging betrothal”.

This arrangement means that while their marriage has been solemnised, they are “promised” to each other.

The children will only live together as husband and wife when they are deemed to be old enough by their parents to do so, which could be when they are as young as 14 years old.

Until then, the children live separately and continue their education, only for the “husband” to visit his “wife” during holidays and religious celebrations.


Fifteen-year-old Uus (not her real name) married her boyfriend last year when she was just 14. He was 19 at the time and he had asked her parents for her hand in marriage. The two had known each other for a year.

“We were only married by a religious teacher … compared to just being boyfriend and girlfriend, such an unclear status, it’s better to have something that is certain,” she said, a reason which resonated with several of the child brides Channel NewsAsia spoke to.

Traditional music accompanies the newlyweds as they ride out of the party compound on horses. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

Muslim marriages in Indonesia must be registered at the government’s Religious Affairs Office (KUA), something Uus and her husband have not done. This means that the two do not have a marriage certificate.

“We haven’t gone to the religious office; I’m not legal yet,” said Uus.

What the young couple have done is known as “nikah siri”, which translates to mean unregistered or secret marriages – this is highly prevalent in Sumenep.

Indonesia’s 2002 Law on Child Protection prohibits marriage under the age of 18 under any circumstances, and such a marriage cannot be registered at the Religious Affairs Office.

But the country’s marriage laws are murky. Under the 1974 Marriage Law, which sets the legal parameters for marriage in the country, parental consent is required for all marriages under the age of 21.

With parental consent, girls can legally marry at the minimum age of 16 and boys at 19, providing they obtain approval from the religious court.

Parents can also file a petition at the religious court or district court to apply for an exemption and get their daughter to marry even earlier, with no minimum age limit, pending an approval.

“Well, if possible, we approve their request if the bride is 16 years old, because they are already mentally mature, so I think it’s okay,” Risana Yulinda, head of the religious court in Sumenep Regency told Channel NewsAsia.

“But sometimes in the event that the child is two months, three months shy of turning 16, we’ll also approve the request because it’s just a little bit of time,”

With parental consent, girls can legally marry at the minimum age of 16 in Indonesia. (Photo: AFP/ STR) 

Applications to marry off children below the age of 16 years were assessed on a case-by-case basis, she said.

“Are they Muslims? Are there any obstacles to the relationship such as them being siblings? Is there a proposal from someone else? If they marry, is their husband ready to provide for them? Are they pregnant? These are all factors that we consider,” said Risana.

But anecdotal evidence suggests that many parents skip getting an approval from the court.

Instead, couples apply for a retroactive confirmation of the marriage when they reach an age deemed legal by Indonesian law.

According to Risana, couples generally apply for a retroactive confirmation when they need to get their paperwork in order.

For example, if they need to make a passport, or if they need to make a birth certificate for their child, these situations require a marriage certificate.

There were more than 200 couples in 2016 who applied for confirmation, she said. With no way for authorities to prove that they were children when the marriage took place, such loopholes only make underage marriages all the more difficult to tackle.

While tradition is a main factor for the practice, according to observers, religion plays a key role in its support.

“Religion has made it legitimate for members of the community to say that getting a child married is the right of the guardian, and when they get a child married, they base that right on the fact that the Prophet married Siti Aisyah when she was nine years old,” said Tatik Hidayati, a lecturer at the Anuqqayah Institute of Islamic Sciences.

“So they use that as a justification that Islam doesn’t forbid it.”

These factors only add to the age debate.


Records from the National Statistics Agency shows that there were 554 couples who divorced in 2016. There were also 55 cases of underage marriage sentenced by the Religious Court of Sumenep in the same year.

Sumenep is about 170km from Surabaya, Indonesia’s second largest city. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

While there is no official data on whether the two overlap, or how many of the divorced couples married as children, authorities say the high divorce rate can be attributed to child marriage, and that they are working to tackle the issue through community engagement, by implementing various programmes.

“In fact in our planning programme, the most ideal age for women (to marry and bear children) is 21 years old, for men it is 25, which is the most ideal. According to their mental state, they are ready,” said Herman Poernomo, Head of Sumenep’s Empowerment of Women, Child Protection & Family Planning Office.

“If you marry your child off and he or she isn’t happy or prosperous, then what’s the point?” asked Herman, with the question he said he generally posed to parents wanting to marry off their children.

But many parents in Sumenep feel bound to the practice out of fear of their girls becoming so-called “spinsters”, a status attached to societal stigma.

Sumarni was married at the age of 13. While she has a daughter of her own now, she said her parents were worried that she would always remain single, which is why they arranged for her marriage.

“The first night (together) I didn’t know anything, I only knew how to cry.”

According to Sumarni, once a child is married, they become their husband’s responsibility, and this also motivates many parents to marry their children off.

There is also a general sense of concern among parents in the regency of their children spending time in close physical proximity with members of the opposite sex, sparking fears among parents who worry that it “could lead to something.”

Authorities have said that they cannot force parents who are accustomed to these traditions forego the practice, but what they have been trying to do is familiarise them with the consequences in an effort to approach the issue with sensitivity.

Marrying as children is detrimental from a health perspective as well, parents are told.

A mother sits with her newly-wed daughter on her lap. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

“A child who marries below the age of 15 and then gives birth, from a physical point of view it is not her time to give birth yet, so a woman’s reproductive organs are not ready for pregnancy,” said Hajah Kusmawati, head of health promotion at the regency’s health office.

She also cited the list of possible health conditions a pregnant child might go through in the course of giving birth, the extremity of which, is death.

“Abortion or the aborting of a baby because the child isn’t ready (to become a parent), internal bleeding, having a baby born underweight, then there’s also asphyxia, and a long labour.

“On the psychological front, the child is still a teenager, she will still wants to ‘have fun playing’; automatically, she won’t be optimal in taking care of a child she gave birth to,” Hajah said, adding that the parents or grandparents will take care of the child in such cases.

Data cited by the regency’s health office said that of about 69,200 teenagers in Sumenep, nine were pregnant in 2016, lower than the office’s 15-person estimate for the year.

According to Hajah, while children in the regency still got married, nowadays, they were likely to wait to before having children, at least until they turned 18 years old.

The health office, just like Sumenep’s Empowerment of Women, Child Protection & Family Planning Office, also engages the community with their programmes, which propagate healthy marriages at the age of 21 for girls, and 25 for boys.

In addition to their familiarisation programmes, the department provides counselling for children and parents as well, including having a dialogue with those who attempt to legitimise the practice by bringing religion into the matter.

Despite these programmes, the regency’s authorities emphasised that the country’s conflicting marital laws are an obstacle in their efforts. According to them, the onus is on the central government to revise the rules.


Religious teachers have always played a key role in advising members of the community on traditional practices.

“Some traditions need to be upheld while others, child marriage among them, don’t,” stressed K Safraji, head of the Majelis Ulama Indonesia (MUI) in Sumenep regency, or the Indonesian Ulema Council, Indonesia’s highest clerical body.

K Safraji, head of the Indonesian Ulema Council in Sumenep regency walks by a group of boys sitting at a mosque after school. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

In 2015, Indonesia’s Constitutional Court rejected an application to raise the marriageable age for girls from 16 to 18 years, on the grounds that raising the marriageable age would not guarantee a reduction in divorce rates nor would it solve health and social problems.

But, in a landmark moment, female clerics this year urged the government to do just that. They issued an unprecedented fatwa or edict against child marriage after a three-day congress held in Cirebon, West Java province.

While an edict is non-binding, it is influential – and serves as a guideline for Muslims to practice their faith according to the local context.

Earlier this year, the government also said that it would seek the help of male clerics, who deliver Friday prayer sermons in mosques to campaign against the practice of child marriage.

In Sumenep, these movements have begun but haven’t made much progress yet, with majority of the clerics in there unaware of the efforts.

“So far, no one from the government has come to familiarise us with these efforts yet to prevent child marriage,” said Lestariyadi, a cleric and head of the Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s biggest Muslim organisation, for Sumenep’s Batang-Batang district.

He added that he was optimistic about a positive change, at least for Sumenep’s children, if authorities spread word about the programme and got everyone on board to carry it out.

Indonesian Ulema Council Head, K Safraji said they had already begun engaging the community to spread awareness on the problem.

The Indonesian government said that it would seek the help of male clerics, who deliver Friday prayer sermons in mosques to campaign against the practice of child marriage. (Photo: AFP/ Juni Kriswanto) 

The Council also implemented a strict vetting process when families approached them to get their children married he said, being sure to ask questions about age, and whether the couple had gone to the Religious Affairs Office to register their marriage.

One problem he said which still occurs and which they are trying to tackle is the manipulation of data.

“Just sometimes, there is some manipulation done by the parents, where they will tell the Office that a child is say already 16 years old, when in reality, he or she is just 11,” he said.


Indonesia has committed to achieving its Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, its aims include eliminating all harmful practices against girls and women including child marriage.

But the Indonesian Coalition to End Child Marriage (18+ Coalition) in November issued a statement saying there had been no significant decrease in the number of child marriage rates in the past eight years.

The group cited data from the National Statistics Agency which showed child marriage rates were 27.4 per cent in 2008, and while they declined to 22.8 per cent in 2015, the rates went up to 25.7 per cent in 2017.

The group has accused the government of failing to commit to its goal.

“This indicates that the alleviation of child in marriage Indonesia has suffered a setback,” the group said in its press release.

Indonesia is ranked 37 on the global child marriage index and is the second highest in Southeast Asia after Cambodia.

With statistics like these, Lies Marcoes Natsir of the Rumah Kita Bersama Foundation said the situation concerning child marriage had reached a “critical” phase – at “emergency” level.

But while the problem is multi-layered, Lies is optimistic that the issue can make headway on certain conditions which should be addressed ahead of others.

“There are two conditions that I believe should be addressed immediately. The first one, is the state’s willingness to explore the possibility of reproduction and sexual education,” she said.

Pregnancy is also one of the reasons children are forced to marry she explained.

“We conducted research in 2014-2015 in nine regencies across five provinces, and we found that out of 52 children who were married, 36 among them got married because they were pregnant, pregnant and underage.”

In this context, the Religious Affairs Office (KUA) and the Religious Court fall under pressure from parents.

According to Lies, if the Religious Affairs Office declines to approve their marriage, parents would then go to the village branch and marry off their children without officially registering them, or, they would manipulate data such as the date of births and make the marriage happen.

The second issue according to Lies has to do with mindset.

“I believe is that if the child is already pregnant, what should be done – the child has two choices – either abortion or to bring the pregnancy to full term without having to marry.”

Lies went on to explain that the government must be brave enough to be able to tell people not to punish the baby or the mother, whether for being illegitimate or having so-called “bad morals”.

“If the government or all of us can be open and honest about these facts, then there is hope,” she said.

“But if this is not carried out, even if there is a national effort, or a coalition among the ministries, but they do not want to be open about sexuality, then it will be very difficult.”