Lombok. A recent survey by Plan International — an organization which focuses on helping marginalized children — reveals child marriage is still a big problem in some parts of Indonesia. In Rembang, Central Java, for example, 38 percent of girls under the age of 18 are already married. Among boys, the corresponding number is only 3.7 percent.
The legal age to get married for women in Indonesia is 16, for men it is 18.
Another region in Indonesia with a high rate of child marriage is Lombok in West Nusa Tenggara.
The Plan survey said the main causes of child marriage are poverty, lack of education and misuse of tradition.
In West Nusa Tenggara, the prevailing view is that girls reach adulthood by the time they are 12-15 years old. By that age, many men think they should be ready to be married off.
The Sasak tribe in Lombok also has a tradition called "Merarik," which allows men to "kidnap" girls they want to marry without her parents' permission. Once a girl is kidnapped, her family has no option but to agree to a marriage.
There are many rules in Merarik designed to make it hard for men to kidnap the girls of their choice, including a rule which prohibits underage girls from being married off in this way, but those rules are often ignored. As a result, many girls of school age became victims of a Merarik gone wrong.
Many think this practice practically legitimizes child marriage in some parts of Lombok.
Ahmat, a village head in Sekotong Timur, said it is almost impossible to prevent a marriage once a Merarik happens, because the men would fight tooth and nail to see it through to the end.
According to Irsyad Hadi, Plan International Indonesia's communication specialist, the organization is currently working with the West Lombok district administration and a volunteer team of teen activists in a program called "YES I DO" to prevent child marriage and teen pregnancies by educating local youths on reproductive health and communicating the original values and rules of the Merarik tradition — including the prohibition on kidnapping underage girls — to village heads and religious leaders.
West Lombok District Head Fauzan Khalid said his administration wants to raise the legal minimum age of marriage to 21 for both men and women by 2019. He added that "the government can't do this on its own. We need to work together with NGOs, donor agencies and village communities."