Marriage is considered an important stage of life. However, this has not been the case on all occasions. The practice of marrying of children at a tender age is still persistent among many communities across the world. In most instances, when a marriage partner is imposed on a child, his or her childhood life abruptly comes to an end. In addition, the basic rights of these children are compromised leading to negative consequences. The principle factors driving childhood marriages is poverty. Early child marriages are perceived as a means or strategy of alleviating economic poverty and securing the future of young teenage girls (Nobles and Buttenheim 5). It is also viewed as an avenue through which protection is offered to the young girls and provides some stability to vulnerable societies under pressure. The adverse effects of early childhood marriages are profound. For example, considering the case of a girl named Fatma who was 11 years old and just about to get married to the local chief. She will probably be pregnant within the first six months into her marriage. Within a year, she will be a mother. Biologically, her body has not sufficiently developed to accommodate child birth. She lives in the village and has minimal access to health care facilities. In case of any complications during labor, her pregnancy could easily result in her death. Other girls of her age in other parts of the world are enjoying their childhood, going to school, and playing. A year from now, Fatma will be a mother with parental responsibilities, as well as a wife to a man twice her age. Early arranged marriages prevent girls from achieving their full potential. It forces girls to drop out of school to start family life. This practice has been a part of the traditional Indonesian marriage culture for a long time. However, the government should take steps that lead to the end of this practice. The element of early-arranged marriage does not portray Indonesia as a country that supports women’s right and gender equality.
In most traditional Indonesian cultures, marriage was the prerogative of the parents. Parents have rarely consulted the children on matters of marriage. In such societies, parents marry off their children at a tender age of between 8 and 12 years. Parents arrange most of these marriages (Field and Ambrus 883). In this case, children, especially girls, do not exert their will on the choice of spouse. Parents usually took into consideration the readiness of the children for sexual intercourse. In most instances, girls were married as soon as they could menstruate. Usually, the victims of early childhood marriages do not have any control or say over the choice of their marriage partners (Blackburn & Bessell 107).
While early marriage may manifest itself in diverse forms, one aspect remains constant. Irrespective of whether it is a boy or girl involved, early marriage constitutes a violation of the fundamental rights of children (UNICEF, 5). The decision on marriage is individualistic. Parents or elder members of the family are rarely involved in making the decision on marriage. Instead, the decision on married should involve the two people who intend to get married. In such a situation, the age of marriage becomes very important. The two people should be sufficiently mature to make well-informed decisions while bearing in mind the responsibilities of marriage and adult life (Blackburn & Bessell 108).
In the contemporary world, there is a demarcation between childhood and adulthood. In most countries, the age limit between adolescence and adulthood has been constitutionally set for the ages of 16 to 18 years. However, this varies from one country to the other. Parents should ensure that marriage does not affect the sanctity of childhood. However, parents and older members of the family are not the only parties that should ensure there is protection of the sanctity of childhood. The state should also be concerned with protection of the sanctity of childhood. There are various laws that help in the protection of the sanctity of childhood. States have laws regarding the age of consensual sexual intercourse, employment, or marriage. For example, the right free and informed consent before getting married is a right acknowledged by the 1948 universal declaration of human rights (UDHR). To this extent, consent cannot be free and informed if one of the spouses in under age. People who violate the laws thus affecting the sanctity of childhood face stiff penalties (Amnesty International 16). However, these laws have been the source of widespread public controversy in various societies. In this case, the laws may contravene the social setting of the society (Blackburn & Bessell 108).
Indonesia is one of the countries where the issue of marriageable age is faced with widespread public controversy. The country is currently going through a series of reforms that seek to embrace western culture and laws regarding marriage and laws that govern it. On the other hand, it is faced with a huge population that subscribes to traditional beliefs and norms. Culture and cultural norms have held societies together for very many centuries. Therefore, convincing a society to abandon certain issues of culture can be very problematic and may stir up controversial debates.
There has been a gradual increase in the age of marriage within Indonesia. The increase in the age of marriage was noted in the second half of the 20th century. An increase in the average age of marriage resulted in an increase in education attainment and economic growth. The trend in Indonesia was also prevalent in other East Asian countries. In 1971, 37% of women between the ages of 15 and19 were married. However, in 2003, less than 10% of women in this age bracket were married (Nilan 66).
Different provinces in Indonesia have different rates of early marriage. Historically, the province of Java has had the highest rates of teenage marriage in Indonesia due to the high rate of poverty. However, over the years, there has been a steady decline in early marriage due to the widespread state funded campaigns in conjunction with other stakeholders. West Java used to have the highest rates of teenage marriage. Other provinces have slowly surpassed teenage marriage rates in the province. Cosmopolitization of West Java is the major reason that has led to the reduction in teenage marriage rates in the province. West Java has developed into an urban center. In this regard, it is inhabited by individuals of various cultures, races, and religions. As people interact, they share their views on religion, culture, and laws. As these individuals learn from other cultures, they tend to abscond negative cultural practices (Malhotra (b) 435).
Change in population patterns and urbanization of various parts of the province, especially the areas around Jakarta, is one of the major factors that have led to the reduction in teenage marriage. When various cultures come together, they assimilate and share some traits of their own culture (Jones and Gibhaju 4). During the late 1990s, the Indonesian government created new provinces by splitting existing provinces. The previous provinces had groups with different cultural backgrounds. However, splitting of the provinces created small provinces that have a lower number of communities with different cultural backgrounds. During this period, the government created the province of Gorontalo. Most of the people who inhabit Gorontalo are Muslims. Gorontalo has one of the lowest average ages of marriage. The province of Gorontalo was an offshoot of the province of North Sulawesi. The province of North Sulawesi remained a predominantly Christian region. Prior to the division, the province of North Sulawesi had a relatively low rate of teenage marriage. After the split, the province of North Sulawesi remained as a region with a relatively low rate of teenage marriage. This is despite the fact that the province of Gorontalo has a very high rate of teenage marriage (Jones and Gibhaju 5).
Causes of early arranged marriages in Indonesia
Poverty is one of the major causes of early-arranged marriages in Indonesia. Lack of a stable sources of income makes parents view raising their children as a burden. In addition, parents view girls as a potential source of income. The income is mainly in the form of bridal price that the potential husband of the girl would pay to the girl’s parents. Parents prefer marrying off their children to rich men who are viewed culturally as valuable in-laws. In this case, they can come to the family assistance in time of need and would be able to take good care of the children. Traditionally, women are also viewed as child bearers and are of no significance to the family apart from the bride price and child bearing. Thus, when parents marry off their young children, they think that they are helping the children have a better life. Most parents who marry off their children while young think that the marriage would help improve the well-being of the remaining children. This is pegged on getting the income from the bride price. In this case, the bride price would enable parents to take good care of the remaining children (Nour 53).
In addition, parents view early marriage as a method of improving the social status of the family. Marrying a girl to a rich family creates close social ties with the rich family. This may ultimately have economic benefits to the family. In some instances, the girls themselves prefer to get married to rich families. It is hoped that such a marriage would improve their social status and economic situation of their families. The girl’s rich husband would be able to feed her well and dress her lavishly. Today, early marriage traps young women in the vicious cycle of poverty (World Vision 15). Early marriage makes women have a long period of sexual activity. Since these women do not usually have access to contraceptives, they have a high probability of giving birth to many children. Having many children has profound economic consequences for the family and society. It traps the society in the vicious cycle of poverty. Failure to finish school also traps the young girls in the vicious cycle of poverty. The young girls are not able to obtain good jobs. Therefore, they may end up working as migrant workers, which has little protection (Osman par. 11).
Failure to enforce laws
Various countries have laws that strive to protect the sanctity of childhood. One of the laws that protect the sanctity of childhood is the laws that set a minimum age for marriage. The Marriage Law of 1975 established the minimum age for Indonesian women and men to marry at 16 and 19 years respectively. Anybody who marries or facilitates the marriage of an individual who is below the minimum age faces the risk of severe punishment from the government (Nilan 69). Despite of these efforts by the Indonesian government, underage marriage continues to take place even after the enactment of the law. Failure to enforce the laws makes some parents not to know that they are breaking the law by marrying off their young daughters. In addition, the girls themselves may not know their rights and legal protection that is available for them. Most of the general population lives in the remote village where the government is unable to enforce the law.
Religious and traditional practices
Islam plays a significant role in the Indonesian culture. According to the Islamic religion, marriage is the only social setting through which two people can have sex. Islam considers it an abomination for two people to have sex outside marriage. It is vital for a girl in an Islamic family to be virgin when she gets married to her husband (Nilan 69). A girl who marries when she is not a virgin discredits the honor of the family. Such a girl may be sentenced to death by stoning as stipulated in the Islamic law. The girl is considered to have committed adultery punishable by death through stoning in Islam for not being a virgin. Therefore, families strive to maintain the honor of the family by ensuring that the girl is still a virgin prior to getting married. One of the common means families use to protect the chastity of the girl and honor of the family is marrying off the girl while still young. In such societies, girls are closely supervised, they are not allowed to engage in any form of dating, and the girls are chaperoned whenever they leave the household. In such a situation, the girls are not even ready for sex. The girls are also not ready for childbearing, which becomes one of her responsibilities upon marriage. The effect of the Islamic religion on early marriages is clearly visible in the provinces that are predominantly Islamic. Indonesian provinces that are predominantly Islamic have a high rate of teenage marriage. Gorontalo and North Sulawesi highlight this fact. The government curved the province of Gorontalo from North Sulawesi. Gorontalo is a predominantly Islamic region whereas what was left of North Sulawesi is predominantly Christian. After the split, Gorontalo recorded high rates of teenage marriage whereas North Sulawesi has low rates of teenage marriage (Jones and Gibhaju 5).
Indonesian Muslim leaders openly support teenage marriage. In fact, several Islamic leaders in Indonesia have married teenage girls. For example, a 43 year-old cleric known as Pujiono Coho Widiyanto was recently arrested for marrying a minor who was aged 12 years. Pujiono who is a renowned businessman and a cleric was arrested when it was proved that his wife Luftiana Ufa was underage. He has since argued that his action was legal under the Islamic law (Al Arabiya News, par. 2-3). Some of the girls are as young as 9 years old when they get married. Other Muslim leaders support this practice instead of criticizing the leaders who marry teenage girls. The government is usually reluctant to prosecute Islamic leaders who marry underage children due to the prominence of the Islamic leaders in the society. Prosecuting the Islamic leaders would raise a huge political and religious debate. The problem of child marriages among Islamic leaders is not just common in Indonesia. It is also a major problem in other countries. In the UK, a Shiite mosque leader agreed to marry 12 year old girls as long as the parents of the child did not tell anyone (Kisiel, par. 2).
The Indonesian culture also plays a significant role in promoting early-arranged marriages. In the Indonesian culture, marriage is usually a family affair. Underage girls do not usually have control over their choice of partner. In some instances, parents of the girl do not even inform the girl of the marriage. The parents would accept the bridal price of the girl and the husband’s family would come and fetch the girl. However, boys usually have a say in their choice of bride.
Conflicts and Disasters
Conflicts and disasters increase the economic pressure that families face in bringing up their children. Famine, draughts, and natural disasters may make families that would have otherwise not considered an early marriage turn to it. A good example is the tsunami that occurred in the Indian ocean leaving thousands dead and many others homeless. Early marriage makes families accept a bridal price for the underage girls in the hope that this would reduce their suffering and that of the underage child. Drought has forced Indonesian parents to accept a bride price for their daughters on several occasions due to the huge burden of feeding large families, which is a major characteristic of Indonesian families (Myers and Harvey 9).
Consequences of early marriage
One of the main consequences of early marriages is early pregnancy and motherhood. Underage brides usually conceive within the first few months into marriage and become mothers within a year of marriage. Early pregnancy and childbirth have serious consequences both on the underage girl and the baby. In Indonesia, it is reported that about 19% of women living in urban areas and 40% of women living in rural areas give birth to their first child before they attain the age of 20 years (Choe, Thapa and Achmad 8; Singh 129).
According to the Indonesia Demographic and Health Survey of 2007, infants of mothers who are under the age of 20 years are 33% more likely to die in their first year of life than infants of 20-29 year-old mothers (Choe, Thapa and Achmad 9). Therefore, early motherhood leads to a significant increase in infant mortality. The underage children do not have the necessary skills that would help them in taking good care of the child. In addition, lack of education makes girls unable to take good care of their children. Therefore, young married girls are less likely to take their infants for immunization. In addition, young married girls are less likely to seek prompt treatment for their infants than their educated counterparts (Otoo-Oyortey and Pobi 45). Furthermore, the underage girl is not yet psychological mature to enable her take good care of the infant. In the recent past, the pace of early marriages has been decreasing. This is attributed to the high level of education amongst young girls. It is noted that young women with primary education tend to get married at an earlier age. This is in contrast to their counterparts who have attained secondary education (Singh and Samara 151).
Sexual and reproductive health
Girls who marry at an early age do not have enough sexual information. According to culture, any discussion of sexual matters is considered as a taboo. Thus, individuals shy away from discussing the topic with their young adolescence. However, the government is carrying out public awareness campaigns on the use of contraceptives and encouraging sex education within the schools to disseminate information to the young adults. In Indonesia, the population is predominantly Islamic. Islam holds that marriage and sex are a preserve of the legally married couples and should only be discussed within such contexts. In addition, since the girls are only educated up to the primary level, whereas some have no form of education at all, they are predisposed to abuse by virtue of not knowing their rights. Incidents of early marriages among girls with secondary education are usually lower than girls with primary or no form of education. On the other hand, Islam does not allow the practice of safe sex or the use of contraceptive. This poses a huge challenge to the young brides especially on methods they can use to avoid pregnancies. An Indonesian study revealed that 13 percent of married women did not know about condoms (Otoo-Oyortey and Pobi 45). Islam demands that the wife should submit to the husband on sexual demand and does not allow the use of contraceptives. In addition, the young married girls are likely to contract sexually transmitted due to sexual contact with their spouses who have a high risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases.
Underage girls do not usually have enough sexual information. Therefore, when the girls get married to older men, they experience their first sexual encounter when they are not well prepared. Young brides are considered by old men to have a higher sexual appeal than their old wives. With subsequent childbearing, older wives become less appealing to their husbands. This results in the men taking up underage brides. This may force the girls to have a memory of sexual trauma due to their first sexual encounter. Unfortunately, the girls may carry this image throughout their lives as most cultures treat sex with secrecy (Otoo-Oyortey and Pobi 45).
Early marriage and gender based abuse
Early marriage makes girls experience disempowerment. Young girls in the Indonesian society do not get an adequate education. As a result, they are not able to pursue jobs or careers. The only alternative they are left with is marriage. Marriage offers a way through which they can live and sustain a dignified social status and lifestyle. This is due to the significant age difference between the underage girl and her husband. In most instances, underage girls get married to men who are far much older than they are. The significant age difference results in unequal power dynamics between the young married girl and her husband. According to Islam, the husband is the head of the household, and the wife is required to be submissive to him. The husband can make decisions concerning the family without consulting the wife. It results in unequal partnership between the spouses. Here, the wife has little power in decision making within the union. This makes underage married women to become isolated from decision making about childbearing (Williams 56). Lack of support systems makes the young married girls have low self-esteem. In addition, a large age difference between an underage girl and her husband can make her a widow at a very early age (Otoo-Oyortey and Pobi 45).
Abuse is a common occurrence among married women in Indonesia, and young brides are not an exception. The husband may abuse the girls either physically or psychologically due to their lack of experience and tender age in marriage. Although wife battering is not accepted within Islam, the cultural factors of the society allow it. Failure to know their rights and the significant age difference makes it difficult for the young married girls defend themselves from abuse. Some of the husbands of the young married girls may be of the same age as the girls’ fathers. This makes the young married girls think that their husbands are justified in beating them up (Otoo-Oyortey and Pobi 45).
Early arranged marriage and education
Education in Indonesia is governed by laws in the constitution. It is mandatory that each child should get at least nine years of education. This means that education is mandatory from the elementary level to the middle and high level. Most children attend the elementary and middle level education, but they drop out thereafter. This is due to the high cost of high school and tertiary level education, which is mainly attended by the few able families. Girls usually terminate their education once they get married. Families usually consider girls to have crossed the threshold of education after they get married. Therefore, education of the young married girl is not a priority to either the parents or the new husband of the young girl. Lack of strict enforcement of laws that prohibit marriage of underage girls makes the girls attain a low level of education. In this case, parents are willing to marry off their daughter immediately after they reach puberty (Myers and Harvey 14). Therefore, enforcement of laws that prohibit marriage of underage children would increase the attainment of education of the children. This would increase adult literacy in the country. Increased adult literacy would increase the country’s economic development as educated women can engage in various economic activities.
In most countries, marriage of underage children is illegal. However, this does not prevent this practice from taking place. Parents force their daughters to drop out of school to get married. The school management may be unaware of the early marriage of the underage children. In cases where the school management is aware of the marriage of the underage girls, they may be reluctant to report the practice as they may view it as a private or family matter that does not warrant their interference (Myers and Harvey 14).
In some instances, there may be educational opportunities available to the underage girls, but the girls would still drop out of school to get married. The quality, cost, and content of education determine whether girls drop out of school to get married. Parents may be unable to pay for the schooling of the girls forcing them to drop out of school. In addition, teachers may not give special emphasis on the education of the girl as they think that the girl would not stay in school for long. This reduces the girls’ interest in education and forces them to drop out of school (Myers and Harvey 14).
Keeping girls in school is one of the most efficient methods of reducing underage marriage. In addition, keeping girls in school increases the age of first sexual experience and reduces the rates of infection of HIV and AIDS among the girls (Blackburn and Bessell 128). Keeping children in school for long periods helps in prolonging the period of childhood. This reduces the adulthood activities that the society may demand the children to engage (Blackburn and Bessell 136). This was the main factor that fueled the enactment of the Marriage Law of 1974. The 1974 Marriage Law increased the legal age for marriage. This ultimately increased the number of years that girls spend in school. This helps in economic development as the women can seek gainful employment by providing their professional skills in economic development. In addition, keeping girls in school increases the empowerment of women since they are able to understand their rights. Empowering women lead to economic development since they form a sizeable percentage of a country’s population. A country that does not empower its women loses a sizeable percentage of its pool of knowledge, which would have been beneficial in the economic development of the country.
Early marriage and Gender equality
The Indonesian culture is egalitarian. Most Indonesian traditional cultures give women significant bases of power and independence. Most Indonesian traditional cultures allow economic participation of women and give women the right to own property. Traditional Indonesian cultures consider women as clever and equal economic partners in the marriage (Malotra 435).
In the Indonesian culture, parents are the main parties that initiate a marriage. Sons may choose the girls they would like to marry. However, in most instances, the parents choose the partner for the girl for her first marriage (Malhotra (a) 551; Montgomery and Sulak 226). Parents would arrange for the wedding of their daughter just after the daughter has attained puberty. In doing this, parents ensure that the daughter gets married while still a virgin. However, women can choose their husbands in their subsequent marriages (Malotra 435). Failure to give women the chance to choose their first husbands portrays a high level of inequality. The Indonesian marriage system allows for divorce after marriage. Either spouse may initiate divorce if the marriage is not fulfilling. In most instances, the woman initiates divorce if she is unhappy with the marriage. Divorce gives women the right to their children and inheritance (Malotra 435).
However, most of the young married girls do not know their rights. Hence, they would not be able to exercise their rights and seek divorce if they are unhappy with the marriage arrangement. The young married girls do not know the avenues that they may use to obtain help if they are unhappy with the marriage arrangement. The girls end up staying in unfulfilling marriages and living very unhappy lives.
Tackling early arranged marriage
The government should address the social and economic dimensions of poverty in order to tackle the problem of early-arranged marriage. The government should ensure that women acquire social and economic skills that would improve their livelihoods. The government should cater for the diverse needs of women in both the rural and urban societies (Otoo-Oyortey and Pobi 48).
The government should create an environment in which young girls can claim their rights without fear of victimization by the society. The government should also create an enabling environment in which young girls can develop skills to make a livelihood. The government should create innovative training programs that would help both married and unmarried girls obtain gainful employment. The training should enable women to obtain gainful employment that is non-domestic. Active participation by members of the community is critical in various government initiatives that strive to reduce underage marriage. The government should ensure that there is an active community participation in creating safe places for organizing various groups that are vulnerable to arranged marriage (Otoo-Oyortey and Pobi 49). The ultimate success of various initiatives depends on the level of participation and coordination among the government, the civil society, and the girls themselves.
Early marriages make it hard for women to realize their true potential. It forces women to drop out of school and be relegated to doing domestic chores. This leads to the loss of a sizeable workforce, which may help in economic development. In addition, it interferes with the social, psychological, and physical development of the child. Early marriages break the social ties that are critical to the woman when she is facing various problems. In addition, girls who marry have increased risk of suffering from gender-based abuse from their spouses. Despite the presence of various laws that help in protecting the sanctity of childhood, early marriages still continue unabated in various parts of Indonesia. Therefore, it is critical for the government and other relevant parties to collaborate in eliminating this practice from the society. Failure to eliminate the practice would lead to wastage of the precious lives of a significant proportion of girls and women.
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