Students hold up anti-child marriage posters during a rally in Mataram, West Nusa Tenggara, in December 2017. (Antara Photo/Ahmad Subaidi)

Religious Messaging the Right Approach in Indonesia to Prevent Child Marriage: NU


FEBRUARY 15, 2020

Jakarta. Anti-child marriage campaigns should employ religious messaging and narratives to deliver their message in a deeply religious country like Indonesia, a woman leader from Indonesia's largest Muslim organization, the Nahdlatul Ulama, has said. 

The head of NU's foreign affairs division, Yenny Wahid, said Indonesians prefer to be emotionally moved than just presented with the facts when discussing a social issue. This is why she thinks religious messaging ("bahasa agama") should play a key role in child marriage prevention in Indonesia. 

"You can't just bombard people with facts if you want them to engage with an issue, they have to be moved emotionally, too. We need a language that can create that emotional effect. I think religious messaging is the way to trigger behavior changes in our society," Yenny, the daughter of the late former Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid, who was a stalwart of moderate Islam, said in Jakarta on Saturday.

Last year, Indonesia ranked 77th among countries with the highest absolute numbers of child marriage, with around one in nine girls married before they turn 18.


The women's wing of NU, Muslimat NU, collaborated with the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) to organize a three-day discussion on "Child Marriage Prevention" in Jakarta on Feb. 14-16.

"The majority of Indonesians are devoted Muslims, religious messaging is the most effective way of communicating with them," Yenny said at the event.

She also said Muslimat NU, a group with a wide network across Indonesia and a strong commitment to stop the practice of child marriage, is the perfect organization for such a campaign. 

Women Empowerment and Child Protection Minister I Gusti Ayu Bintang, who attended the second day of the event, said she appreciated the initiative by NU and Unicef to help reduce child marriage prevalence in Indonesia.

She said President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo had tasked the ministry with lowering the child marriage rate in the country from 11.21 percent in 2018 to 8.74 percent by 2024.

"I'm optimistic the target can be achieved. We expect local governments [to contribute to the effort]. We've talked with the Home Affairs Minister [Tito Karnavian]. He has the authority to talk to the governors, mayors, etc.," Bintang said.

According to a 2018 Unicef report, one in nine girls in Indonesia on average were married before they turned 18.

The report also detailed the impacts of early marriage, such as complications during and after pregnancy and vulnerability to domestic violence.