Indonesia’s Constitutional Court on Thursday ordered lawmakers to increase the minimum marriageable age for girls, in a ruling that could pave the way for ending rampant child weddings in the country.
The court gave the legislature and government three years to revise a 1974 marriage law that sets a minimum age for girls to be wed, according to the court’s ruling read out by Chief Justice Anwar Usman.
The court ruled on a petition filed by three former child brides, and said such marriages could deny children rights to health and education. Every year, one in seven Indonesian girls gets married before age 18, according to the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
The petition was filed by former child brides Endang Wasrinah, Maryanti and Rasminah who argued the marriages were a form of discrimination and child exploitation.
Endang welcomed the ruling, but told reporters that the law should be revised sooner rather than later.
“I don’t want any other woman to experience what I did. I should have gone to school, been pampered by my parents and instead I became a parent and had to take care of children,” said the 40-year-old who was married at 14.
Under the 1974 law, a girl can get married if she is 16 or older, though parents can apply for an exemption to a religious court for younger girls, while males must wait until they are 19 before they can marry. In its ruling, the court did not recommend a minimum age for marriage.
Lia Angie, a child rights activist with the Indonesian Women’s Coalition (KPI) who accompanied the plaintiffs, questioned why three years was needed to revise the law.
“During that period many more girls will be married off,” she told BenarNews.
Lia urged the parliament to revise the law immediately and set the same age for women and men.
“They don’t have to wait for three years if it can be done in less than one year,” she said.
The same court rejected a similar petition in 2015, arguing that Islam and other religions did not set a minimum age for marriage and that puberty usually was an indication that girls were ready to wed. It determined that if a minimum age were set, there would be no allowances for future revisions.
On Thursday, Judge Anwar said the law was not in harmony with a protection law defining a child as any person 18 or younger.
Another member of the bench, Judge I Dewa Gede Palguna, said such marriages often meant that girls could not complete the compulsory 12 years of school.
“Married women have difficulty accessing education,” he said.
In Indonesia, 1.4 million women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married before the age of 18, according UNICEF’s 2016 State of the World’s Children report.
UNICEF said that while education and economic progress should have reduced the prevalence of child marriage in Indonesia, the number of child brides held steady between 2008 and 2015. Many girls are married off by their parents because of poverty and a lack of access to education.
Lia, the child rights advocate, also called on President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to issue a regulation in lieu of law on ending child marriages.
Meanwhile, Nasir Djamil, a member of the House of Representatives, welcomed the court’s decision.
“Of course, we will respond immediately because this is an urgent matter. We don’t have to wait for three years,” he told BenarNews.
Another legislator, Arsul Sani, said the debate on revisions to the marriage law was likely to be on next year’s agenda.
“I personally will fight for it to be included in the national legislation program,” he told BenarNews.