Why raising the minimum legal age might not be the solution for child marriage


The amendment of Indonesia’s Marriage act in 2019 was an important step towards reducing child marriage and improving human rights. The age that girls can get married with parental permission was raised from 16 to 19 years – equal to the minimum age for boys. This renewal of the law is designed to contribute to the reduction of child marriage rates, but is this raising of the minimum age of marriage the solution, especially in the areas with strong local norms?

Before the amendment of the Marriage Act, Indonesia already faced the problem that official documents, for example birth certificates, were being falsified so that underaged children could marry under state law. Only 5% percent of child marriage were granted court exemptions, a large share of the remaining 95% may have been carried out with falsified documents. State laws are often creatively interpreted and applied at the village level. Besides that, the legal diversity between the official state laws and the religious and customary laws that are often pursued at the village level cause a gap that makes it possible to evade some of the official state laws. Despite of the raising of the age of legal marriage, this act of fraud does continue.

An early marriage thus necessitates people to evade the state law. Decisions around marriage are strongly influenced by the family and the community where they are in. Norms and values the family adheres to cause children to marry at a young age. Such a motive is the avoiding of the strong social stigma which occurs within local communities which coincides with a teen pregnancy outside the wedlock. Judges in the local village administration allow underage marriage to avoid a sin. Another reason for early marriage is because of  financial reasons.

The raising of the age of legal marriage to 19 years for girls is something for which Indonesians should be thankful. However, the government should ensure the same treatment of marriage within state, religious and customary law. In that respect, Indonesia still has a long way to go. If official state law and religious and customary law do not share the same views with regards to child marriage, any minimum age of legal marriage enacted within Indonesia’s Marriage Act won’t be absolutely binding. Religious and customary law advocates will continue to make excuses to allow underaged marriages. Tulodo’s collaboration with UNICEF and the Ministry of Women Empowerment and Child Protection on the BERANI program will support the implementation of the new law, and hopefully prevent any further rise in child marriages cases in Indonesia.

Editor: Nicholas Goodwin

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Nicholas Goodwin

Behaviour change and international development guy.

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