A senior Indonesian minister sparked outrage by recommending the rich marry the poor to reduce poverty in the country on Wednesday.
In an opening speech at the National Health Work Meeting in Jakarta, Coordinating Human Development and Culture Minister Muhadjir Effendy suggested that Religious Affairs Minister Fachrul Razi issue a fatwa — a religious Islamic ruling to provide guidance — addressing the matter. A fatwa is normally issued by Muslim organizations, not the religious affairs minister, according to the Jakarta Post.
Effendy said the fatwa should state that “the poor are required to look for the rich [for marriage] and the rich should look for the poor.”
“What happened if poor people are looking for other poor people [for marriage]? There will be more poor households. This is a problem in Indonesia,” Effendy said, according to the Jakarta Post.
Out of Indonesia’s 264 million population, about 25.9 million still live below the poverty line, according to the World Bank. Indonesia has, however, reduced poverty over the last 15 years to less than 10%.
Muhadjir said parents should not be embarrassed if their children marry outside of their economic class and should consider it a noble act.
The public took to social media to criticize Effendy. He later clarified that his statement was meant to be a suggestion, not mandatory.
Lol— Zawil Ula (@zawilula18) February 20, 2020
"Marrying" instead of prioritizing & establishing a better education system to improve the HDI in #Indonesia is a ridiculous solution!
PS: Marrying someone's child is a huge responsibility and it can't be taken lightly. https://t.co/P9FJmfM8V5
That’s some seriously lateral thinking. We have a new public policy winner!— Guy Burton (@guyjsburton) February 20, 2020
Minister suggests ‘the rich’ should marry ‘the poor’ to reduce Indonesia’s poverty rate https://t.co/yJ66he93Jo
During his speech on Wednesday, Effendy also proposed a pre-marital certification program to reduce the rate of new poor families. He said Indonesia averages 2.5 million marriages a year and 10% of these marriages would potentially lead to the creation of poor families.
Under the new program, President Joko Widodo would issue pre-employment cards to couples who were not yet financially stable. They would automatically qualify to receive job training, small loans, or employment opportunities. Effendy went on to cite the success of similar programs in Korea, Malaysia, and Singapore.
Effendy also implied marriages between the rich and poor could slow stunting — which prevents children from growing and developing properly — among poor Indonesian families. In 2013, 37% of Indonesian children under the age of 5 were stunted, according to a National Health Survey.
Read More: 8 Myths About Ending Extreme Poverty
Stunting is caused by chronic malnutrition and repeated illness during childhood. To prevent stunting, pregnant women and mothers need to have acces to adequate health resources, education, and food security, according to the World Bank — they don't need to marry rich.
Experts say marriage does not directly reduce poverty and marriage promotion campaigns do not lead to children’s economic well-being. When men get married as a result of a marriage campaign, they are actually less financially supportive.
“Comprehensive and early sex education, and affordable access to birth control and family services,” are more effective ways to reduce poverty by helping women avoid unplanned pregnancies or mistimed births, Kristi Williams, associate professor of sociology at Ohio State University, told Think Progress.
In Indonesia, the country with the eighth highest number of child brides in the world, suggesting poor families marry rich could potentially increase the child marriage rate.
Girls living in low-income households are already more likely to marry early if their parents are seeking to reduce their economic burden. Without education, it is more difficult for child brides to gain financial independence and they often remain poor.