The age at which people marry can be problematic.
Founding a family too large parts of a conservative public opinion is a duty in life. Perhaps even a holy mission. It may explain why urbanized, highly educated, modern female happy singles by the time they reach thirty something, often feel and imagine inconvenient question marks on their friends’ and relatives’ faces: ‘when will you marry?’
Though the real problem to me seems to be that a real significant part of Indonesian wives married young. I mean very young.
They often were child brides at a considerable time before the age of 18. It’s fortunately a declining phenomenon correlating with improving high school education and less poverty on the part of girls. Yet even today between 20% and 25% Indonesian girls married before they were 18. That’s the real problem.
The law which puts the age limit at sixteen, theoretically protects girls to some extend. However tradition and religion occasionally are being abused to evade the official rules. It’s rumoured that up to 45% of girls between 10 and 15 in South Sulawesi were married by men extremely ill informed who think sexual intercourse with underage girls protects them from contracting HIV/AIDS. There appears to be parallel worlds in the archipelago where solid knowledge and the official state of law are just fairy tales.
Sometimes a few scenes from such a parallel world get public.
Recently mr Aceng Fikri, Garut regent, got himself a well deserved trending topic position. He concluded an unregistered marriage with a 17 years old girl - breaching the law in the process- in an Islamic ceremony and next divorced her by SMS a few days later. Unlike many other illegal weddings, this specific case of a rotten trick played on a minor by the lewd official, got full media’s attention. The flak they initiated practically wrecked the (almost ex-)regent career.
Another illegal marriage that unintended went public, happened on Bali the other day. There a family father, probably in his midlife crisis, got a thirteen years old girl pregnant and in a traditional ceremony married her. At thirteen! Would the man be treated like the Dutch alleged paedophile Vogel, he should have been arrested by now. Actually the case is under investigation since the husbands’ neighbours reported him to the police.
Of course the welfare of childbrides is in serious jeopardy. Their health (childbrides contribute to a large extent to high mortality rates among Indonesian women giving birth) and chances in life are at stake. So in order to improve on that the status quo has to be changed.
Fortunately Indonesia’s economic future promises improving standards of living and better education for most people. But I’m afraid that’s not enough. Raising legal marriage age from sixteen to eighteen or twenty-one, may also be necessary. And the escape and evade routes via religious and traditional ceremonies should be cut off. Those who provide and cooperate in such events should be effectively punishable under the penal code. Some hard talk with spiritual leaders and significant improvement of law enforcement need to be prioritized.
* Picture from here.