Jakarta (ANTARA) - Eni, a resident of West Nusa Tengga (NTB), regretted that she allowed her 14-year-old daughter to marry last May 2020. Eni (not her real name) told BBC Indonesia in August last year that her daughter was often beaten by her husband, who was four years older.

She recalled that her daughter insisted to get marriage because she had been often together with her boyfriend since the COVID-19 pandemic that forced students to study from home.

Another a story of a child marriage was about 17-year-old Dini (not her real name), whose life had been disturbed by a powerful earthquake in Central Sulawesi, that destroyed her school and buildings. While staying in refugee camp, she had often spent time with her boyfriend and as a consequence she got pregnant. So, she decided to get married and drop out of school.

Indonesia has been facing double disasters since last year, notably natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes, and the COVID-19 pandemic. The two disasters have been identified of hampering efforts to prevent child married. Economic problem and out-of-wedlock pregnancies often forced girls under 19 years old to get marriage.

Save the Children has warned that up to 2.5 million more girls around the world are at risk of marriage in the next 5 years because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic's damage to education and the economy could reverse decades of progress on child marriage and pregnancy.

"COVID-19 has made an already difficult situation for millions of girls even worse. Shuttered schools, isolation from friends and support networks, and rising poverty have added fuel to a fire the world is struggling to put out. But we can and we must extinguish child marriage,” UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said.

Worldwide, an estimated 650 million girls and women alive today were married in childhood, with about half of those occurring in Bangladesh, Brazil, Ethiopia, India and Nigeria, according to UNICEF.

“One year into the pandemic, immediate action is needed to mitigate the toll on girls and their families,” Fore said, adding: “By reopening schools, implementing effective laws and policies, ensuring access to health and social services – including sexual and reproductive health services – and providing comprehensive social protection measures for families, we can significantly reduce a girl’s risk of having her childhood stolen through child marriage.”

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In certain regions in Indonesia, child marriage practices are quite common. According to the 2018 Socio-economic National Survey (Susenas), one in every nine girls aged 20-24 gets married before the age of 18. Its number is around 1.2 million, manifesting the 8th highest number of child marriages in the world.

In general, the practices have declined in the last 10 years by 3.5%, according to the National Strategy on the Prevention of Child Marriage drafted by the National Development Planning Ministry/the National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas). However, the decrease has not yet reached the expected results and is relatively slow.

In fact, the prevalence of child marriage has increased in 2016 by 11.1% to 11.2% in 2018. While for marriages under 15 years, there was a decrease of 1.04% from 2008 to 2018. However, based on the last three years, trend there was an increase from 0.54% in 2016 to 0.56% in 2018.

In special conditions such as natural disasters and humanitarian crises, child marriages tripled. The reasons, among other things, are that parents want to release the economic burden, safety factors, and fear of unintended pregnancy.

Child marriage has been deemed a form of child rights violation that can hinder the fulfillment of children's needs. It can also have an impact on their health, including the risk of maternal and infant mortality, according to Bappenas.

The Indonesian government aims to slash further the child marriage rate from 11.21 percent in 2018 to at least 8.7 percent by 2024, with integrated efforts involving all related states agencies with the support from international organizations and foreign governments. The long-term goal is to meet the sustainable development goal of reducing the rate to 6.94 percent by 2030.

A reduction in rates of child marriage has also been stated as a target of Indonesia’s National Mid-term Development Plan (2020-2024).

The ministry/Bappenas, and the Women Empowerment and Child Protection Ministry launched the national strategy on child marriage prevention on Feb. 14, 2021, in collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund, the UNICEF, the Canadian Government and the Australian Government.

The national strategy seeks to optimize children’s capacity so that they have resilience towards the issue and become agents of change at their peer group, Yosi Diani, the agency's child protection sub directorate head, said .

The joint measures to combat child marriage also include attempts to raise public awareness about regulations on marriage. Last September, the House of Representatives enacted the amended marriage law Number 16 of 2019 that has raised the minimum age of marriage to 19 years, for both sexes. At the age of 19, a person is considered physically and mentally mature to enter into a marriage and realize the goal of marriage without ending it in divorce, and produce healthy and quality offspring.

In terms of education, women who are married before they turn 18 have four times lower chances of completing their high school education.

Child marriages also contributed to the country's 359 deaths per 100,000 live births and stunted growth in one out of three infants, according to Maria Ulfah Anshor, a commissioner of the National Commission for Women

Meanwhile, the Indonesian Child Protection Commission (KPAI) confirmed that the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic, which is forcing students to study online from home, is becoming a trigger for many to drop out of school to work or get married.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic (began), KPAI has received complaints regarding school fees, especially at private schools. These cases have been resolved through mediation involving the local education office and supervisors of public and private schools, Retno Listyarti, KPAI's commissioner, said in February 2021.

As many parents lost their jobs, children were forced to quit school and take jobs to support their families financially or get married at an early age, she added.

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"KPAI has recorded that there were 119 students who got married, both male and female, whose ages ranged from 15 years to 18 years," she informed.
School representatives visited the homes of students who did not join online study or submit their homework, she said. During the visits, the school found out that many of those students were already married or were working, she added.

According to the Central Statistics Agency (BPS), the number of Indonesians living in poverty rose by 2.76 million to reach 27.55 million of the population in September, 2020 from 24.79 million in September, 2019.

In March 2021, the government organized a seminar and Declaration of the National Movement for the Maturity of Marriage to Improve the Quality of Indonesian Human Resources in Indonesia.

'Child marriage can deprive the rights of and opportunities for children to access quality education and get decent work to build a prosperous life," Education and Culture Minister Nadiem Makarim said during the seminar.

He also urged all stakeholders to work towards reducing the incidence of child marriage, which has a negative impact on the quality of life of children.

He expressed his concern that the prevalence of child marriage in Indonesia is still high at 11.2 percent.

"Indonesia ranks eight in the world and second in ASEAN in terms of child marriage," said Makarim.

The minister said the education sector can play an important role in eliminating child marriage and ensuring that children who are forced to marry can continue their studies.

"In Indonesia, child marriage is a multidimensional phenomenon involving structural and cultural factors, so this condition needs to be responded to by the education sector to form a public understanding of the importance of physical, mental, and financial readiness in building a happy family," he added.

Makarim also lauded the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) and the Women's Empowerment and Child Protection (PPPA) Ministry regarding the Declaration of the National Movement for the Maturity of Marriage to Improve the Quality of Indonesian Human Resources in Indonesia.

He said he considers the MoU as an effort to build strong synergy with all parties in preventing child marriage and improving the quality of the family in the best interests of Indonesian children.

Speaking in the same seminar, Women's Empowerment and Child Protection (PPPA) Minister Bintang Puspayoga said child marriage is a form of violation of human rights against children.

The minister pointed out that children compelled to marry due to certain conditions will find it difficult to access education, their health will be compromised, and they can potentially experience violence and live in poverty.

"The impact of child marriage will not only be experienced by children who are married off but also by the offspring and can likely create inter-generational poverty," she stated.

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Editor: Rahmad Nasution
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