A group of activists who are currently challenging the minimum age for marriage of 16 years old for females at the Constitutional Court are optimistic they will win their case, as lawmakers have begun to amend the definition of a minor in the 2002 Child Protection Law.
The House of Representatives’ Commission VIII overseeing religious and social affairs has proposed defining a minor as anyone below 18 years of age.
Five plaintiffs — including women and children’s rights activists — and the Children’s Human Rights Foundation (YPHA), have asked the court to raise the legal minimum age for marriage as stipulated by the 1974 Marriage law, from 16 to 18 years for females as they fear such a low minimum age leads to child marriages and forced-child marriage cases.
“[Keeping the current minimum age for marriage] shows that while others recognize that those below 18 years old are minors, the Marriage Law is still outdated. It is now the time to fix it,” one of the plaintiffs, women’s rights activist Indri Oktaviani told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.
The plaintiffs have argued that Article 7 paragraph 1 of the law, which regulates the minimum age for marriage has created legal uncertainty and contravenes the Child Protection Law.
In their petition, they argue that child marriage denies children their right to grow and develop, as well as their right to an education. They also say that teenage pregnancies often end in miscarriage, premature births and maternal deaths.
“The psychological and the physical conditions of a child are different from those of an adult. A girl at a young age is not prepared for childbearing as she is still growing. In two years, there are a lot of changes, including in terms of their maturity,” Indri said. “So, such a provision will only be harmful to girls and their babies.”
Indri added that the provision contravened two international human-rights treaties, which are the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
The petitioners have also asked the court to scrap Article 7 paragraph 2, which allows younger people to marry if their parents request permission from the Religious Court and a dispensation from the court in lieu of parental consent if the parents are already deceased.
Indonesia has one of the highest percentages of child marriage in the world and the second-highest in ASEAN after Cambodia.
The number of married females aged between 10 and 14 years amounts to more than 22,000 or 0.2 percent of the population, while married females aged between 15 and 19 account for 11.7 percent.
The 2012 Indonesia Demographic and Health Survey (SDKI) found that the maternal mortality rate in Indonesia stood at 359 per 100,000 live births, up from 228 per 100,000 live births in 2007.
Since 2000, the government has aimed to reduce the maternal mortality rate to 102 per 100,000 live births to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015.
The hearing will resume next Friday. The court is currently also processing another judicial review of the minimum age for marriage filed by the NGO Yayasan Kesehatan Perempuan (Women’s Health Foundation) in April.
The National Commission on Violence against Women (Komnas Perempuan) has also called on the government to raise the legal minimum age for marriage from 16 to 18 years old for females in order to help reduce maternal mortality rates.