By: Najmatul Millah *)

Child marriage or often called early marriage has become an international’s concern and endeavor to eliminate it. According to the data of the United Nations Agency for Children (UNICEF), about 17 percent of Indonesian female got married before the age of 18 (UNICEF, 2015). Indonesia currently ranks 37 out of 73 countries in the case of child marriage and the second in ASEAN after Cambodia (Data World Fertility Policies, United Nations, 2011). 

There are many reasons that encourage the practice of child marriage such as social factor, culture, economy, and education. However, many speculations emerge that the high rates of child marriage in Muslim-majority countries including Indonesia cannot be separated from a theological factor that is a religious justification over the legality of such practice. And, in this context, the Prophet’s marriage with Aishah, who at that time was still very young even a child, is taken as a role model by the Muslims.

From the social and cultural point of view, the practice of child marriage committed by the female is an example of patriarchal cultures which can be widely found in our society. There are lots of reasons why the parents make their daughter get married at the young age, among others, because of public pressure and a fear of being labeled unsold and spinster which would later become a family disgrace that must be immediately solved. So, the parents regard that their daughters better get married soon than pursuing their education. They do not want to know that the child marriage is not allowed according to the Marriage Law.

The rise of child marriages in Indonesia is also caused by economic problems. The parents usually like to quickly make their daughter get married in order to be exempted from their responsibilities. They assume that by making their daughter get married, it will reduce the burden of the family because after that their cost of living automatically switches to their husband. Even the parents will be very lucky if their daughter gets married to the man from the family which is economically more established as the needs of their daughter will be guaranteed and could make them happy. Though, in reality, their daughter usually will find new problems in their new family like the circle of poverty. Even more tragic, many girls married by the men from richer families become a maid instead. They are forced to work in their husbands’ family as a ransom as they are not from the same economic class.

Another factor that triggers the child marriage is the low education level of the society. Also, difficult access to education for girls and the absence of girls’ demands to have a high career so that they do not need “higher education” often encourage the parents to make their daughter get married as soon as possible. Or, to get rid of the demand for tuition fees of their daughter that creates a double burden for the family.

There are many negative consequences of the child marriage, among others: 1) Uneducated. Definitely, the young brides will be dropout generation. Their opportunities to get a higher education are limited, even many who do not complete their elementary education; which then makes the high number of illiterates. 2) Economic abuse by their parents who make their daughter get married at the young age. They deliberately abandon their daughter by switching their all responsibilities with regard to the fulfillment of their daughter’s need and it must be fulfilled by her husband who is also still a child. 3) Reproductive Health Problems. Various health problems resulted from child marriage include premature pregnancy which causes the baby to be born under normal weight who has 20 times greater risk of death in the first year than a normal baby. In addition, maternal mortality where teenage mothers between 10-14 years old are at risk of death during childbirth process that is five times greater than adult mothers. Death-causing childbirth is the most dominant factor in maternal mortality at the age between 15-19 years old, as a result of not getting enough nutrition as the mother has to share it with her baby in the womb. Disruption of reproductive health would cause high maternal mortality ratio (MMR) and infant mortality ratio (IMR). In addition, other health problems may include pelvic bone damage, susceptibility to unprotected sexual intercourse and possibly infected by HIV/ AIDS; various kinds of domestic violence as well as psychological trauma.   

The Attempts to Prevent Child Marriage

To reduce the practice of child marriage according to the writer, there are several things that can be done. First is developing a wise mindset and always considering the problems by preventing harm and disadvantage (mafsadat and madlarat) that befall. Child marriage can lead to a violation of the primary right that is the right to the protection of reason and soul. 

Theological understanding with various new interpretations is always arising, for instance, Prof. Dr. Quraish Shihab states that aqil baligh must be one of the prerequisites of the marriage. The meaning of the term “baligh” should not only be conceived as a physical maturity, but also as a mental, social, and even economic maturity. Such understanding has to be the argument of the female teens so that they do not want to easily get married at the young age.

 This also could be the counter-argument for the matter of the marriage of Siti Aishah with the Prophet when she was still 6 years old and began living with him at the age of 9. But, this case is lately reviewed due to a new finding based on anthropological studies and a genealogy. So, a new conclusion is obtained that he actually married Aishah when she has been an adult (19 years old), as well as a trend of change of the rule regarding the minimum marriage age in various Muslim countries.

The state should ban the child marriage by changing the minimum age for marriage. The minimum age of marriage for children according to the Law of Marriage No 1/1974 that is 19 years old for male and 16 years old for female needs to be revised by increasing the minimum age (for female) to be 18 years old in accordance with the Child Protection Law and gives more sanction for its offenders.

Second, an easy and inexpensive access to education becomes an important factor in reducing teens’ marriage. Education can play a role to postpone the time of marriage until the mature age. In addition, through education, the teens can get alternative opportunities while developing their potency. And, in turn, they are expected to elevate their socio-economic status to a better level.

Third, another factor that causes the increase of the practices of child marriage is a low economics or poverty. So, to prevent and solve such case is by encouraging the acceleration of economic improvement, life skill improvement, and welfare by providing adequate job vacancies. 

Fourth, building Child-Decent Regency which could be initiated by the government. Lenny N. Rosalin, Deputy for Child Development, Ministry of Women Empowerment and Child Protection (KP3A) explained, to suppress the child marriage rate the government has several strategies such as formulating a legal framework for the protection of children’s rights, giving children the role to become initiator and also reporter whenever there is a child marriage, educating the family related to the rights of the children, building child-friendly schools, campaigning and disseminating to local leaders, community leaders, business world related to the issues of child marriage. And not less important is building a Child-Decent Regency/City. Meanwhile, the efforts to fulfill the rights of the children based on the Law No 35/2014 amendment of Law No 23/2002 on Child Protection, help to bridge the district to build its area friendly to the children.

Hopefully, all these efforts can be realized as we have proclaimed that Indonesia will be a child-friendly country in 2030. {}

*) The writer is the alumnus of the program of Women Ulama Training (PUP) chapter East Java and the caregiver of a pesantren in Sukowono, Jember.

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