UNICEF welcomes Indonesian Women’s Ulema recommendation to avoid child marriage

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UNICEF welcomes the recommendation issued by the Indonesian Women’s Ulema Congress to end child marriage and to raise the legal marriage age for girls from 16 to 18.

The congress of respected female Islamic clerics, the first of its kind in Indonesia which took place in Cirebon in West Java, urged an amendment to the 1974 Marriage Law, which allows girls to be married from age 16.
The recommendation calls upon parents, educators, society and government to share responsibility to end the “harmful” practice of child marriage, saying it limits the education, health, income opportunities and safety of adolescent girls. Preventing girls from getting married before adulthood should therefore be “mandatory”.

The Marriage Law sets a minimum age for marriage of 21 years. However, with the parents’ consent, boys are allowed to marry from age 19, while girls can already marry at the age 16. Parents can ask a religious court or a district court for an exemption for their daughter to marry even earlier, with no minimum age limit.

“This is a landmark moment in the efforts to end child marriage in Indonesia, where on average more than 3,500 girls are married every day,” said UNICEF Indonesia Representative Gunilla Olsson. “Girls who marry below the age of 18 face severe risks to their health, because of early pregnancy. And most of them drop out of school. Healthy and well-educated girls are a foundation for a prosperous society.”

Around one in four marriages, involves a child bride. According to the latest data from the National Bureau of Statistics (BPS), 1,348,886 girls married before the age of 18 in 2012. Of those, 292,663 girls married before the age of 16 and 110,198 before 15. The 1974 Marriage Law contradicts the 2002 Law on Child Protection, which prohibits marriage under the age of 18.

Child brides are six times less likely to complete upper secondary school compared to girls who marry later, limiting their career opportunities and vocational advancement and placing them at increased risk of abuse and domestic violence. Making sure that girls can finish 12 years of schooling has proven to be effective in delaying marriage.

At the close of the conference, Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim Sayfuddin committed to present the Ulema’s recommendation for an increase of the legal age of marriage from 16 to 18 to the Government.
Ibu Gunilla welcomed the announcement, saying that the legal reform was a vital step toward ending the practice. “This confirms Indonesia as a leading champion for children in the implementation of the agenda 2030,” she said.

Indonesia has committed to achieving its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, one of which is SDG 5.3 to eliminate all harmful practices against girls and women, including child marriage. Indonesia will present its progress on the SDGs at the United Nations 2017 High Level Political Forum in New York in July.

“Support from religious leaders are fundamental to achieving the targets. UNICEF welcomes the invitation to follow-up discussion on the ruling. When a girl is empowered, everyone reaps the benefits,” Ibu Gunilla said.

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