Fighting Child Marriage in Lombok

Girls in Jagaraga Indah, a village in West Lombok, East Nusa Tenggara, are often married off before they turn 16, the legal age to get married for women in Indonesia. (JG Photo/Yudhi Sukma Wijaya)

By : JG | on 10:09 AM July 13, 2017
Category : Eyewitness, Multimedia, Photos

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."

Plan Indonesia volunteers and village officials visit the home of a 13-year-old girl who was almost married to a 28-year-old man following the Merarik tradition in Sekotong Timur, a village in West Lombok, on Monday (10/07). (JG Photo/Yudhi Sukma Wijaya) Plan Indonesia volunteers and village officials visit the home of a 13-year-old girl who was almost married to a 28-year-old man following the Merarik tradition in Sekotong Timur, a village in West Lombok, on Monday (10/07). (JG Photo/Yudhi Sukma Wijaya)

Plan International volunteers and village officials in West Lombok counseled a girl who did not want to get married by 'Merarik,' a local tradition that allows men to kidnap the girl they want to marry. (JG Photo/Yudhi Sukma Wijaya) Plan International volunteers and village officials in West Lombok counseled a girl who did not want to get married by 'Merarik,' a local tradition that allows men to kidnap the girl they want to marry. (JG Photo/Yudhi Sukma Wijaya)

Dirt roads that turn to mud tracks during rainy seasons in Lombok often make it hard for girls living in villages to go to school often far away from their homes and stop them from receiving basic education on reproductive health. (JG Photo/Yudhi Sukma Wijaya) Dirt roads that turn to mud tracks during rainy seasons in Lombok often make it hard for girls living in villages to go to school often far away from their homes and stop them from receiving basic education on reproductive health. (JG Photo/Yudhi Sukma Wijaya)

A kampung in West Lombok. (JG Photo/Yudhi Sukma Wijaya) A village in West Lombok. (JG Photo/Yudhi Sukma Wijaya)

A young woman carries her child in an alley road in Jagaraga Indah, a village in West Lombok. (JG Photo/Yudhi Sukma Wijaya) A young woman carries her child in an alley road in Jagaraga Indah, a village in West Lombok. (JG Photo/Yudhi Sukma Wijaya)

Women hang out outside their homes in Jagaraga Indah, West Lombok. (JG Photo/Yudhi Sukma Wijaya) Women hang out outside their homes in Jagaraga Indah, West Lombok. (JG Photo/Yudhi Sukma Wijaya)

An English class for teens in Jagaraga Indah. The class is held to help young people to educate themselves about the dangers of child marriage and teen pregnancies. (JG Photo/Yudhi Sukma Wijaya) An English class for teens in Jagaraga Indah. The class is held to help young people to educate themselves about the dangers of child marriage and teen pregnancies. (JG Photo/Yudhi Sukma Wijaya)

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