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Girls & Women

Indonesian Lawmaker Calls for an End to Child Marriage 'Hell'

By Beh Lih Yi

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 19 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — Indonesia must change its laws to end child marriage in the world's most populous Muslim country where thousands of girls are trapped in a kind of "hell," an Indonesian lawmaker said on Monday.

Indonesia has one of the worst records for underage marriage — its high number of child brides puts it among the top 10 countries worldwide, according to campaign group Girls Not Brides.

The Constitutional court ruled last year to change the minimum marriage age for girls, currently at 16, in a move applauded by women's rights groups.

The ruling did not specify an increase and gave legislators three years to decide what the new minimum age should be.

But a senior lawmaker from the ruling party of Indonesian President Joko Widodo said there has been no progress.

"Why has there have been a lack of response on the child marriage issue? It is as if we don't care," said Eva Kusuma Sundari from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle.

Read More: Indonesia's Top Court Just Took a Major Step Toward Ending Child Marriage

Sundari wants a minimum marriage age of 18 introduced urgently and has the support of 20 lawmakers from different political parties.

"It is like living in hell when a child gets married and made to carry another child," the 53-year-old told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Jakarta.

"They lose their freedom, their rights to education and their future. It kills their dreams, especially for the girls who cannot continue school," she added.

Campaigners say the law should be changed because it discriminates against girls, who can marry at 16 whereas the legal age for men is 19.

Poverty and tradition often lead families to marry their children in the Southeast Asia archipelago of 260 million people where 1 in 4 girls is wed before they turn 18, according to the United Nations' children agency, UNICEF.

Read More: This 13-Year-Old Stopped Her Own Child Marriage, and Is Helping Others to Do the Same

On average, over 3,500 Indonesian girls are married every day and in some cases religious courts have endorsed the marriages of Indonesian girls younger than 16.

Globally, 12 million girls become child brides each year, according to Girls Not Brides, exposing them to greater risks of exploitation, sexual violence, domestic abuse and death in childbirth.

(Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi; Editing by Tom Finn. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)