Child marriage continues to occur during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Directorate General of Religious Courts (Badilag) recorded that from January to June 2020, more than 35,000 applications for marriage dispensation were filed by prospective married couples who are under the age of 19.
For this reason, as an organisation that is committed to providing solutions to child marriage, Yayasan Plan International Indonesia (Plan Indonesia) presented the first Policy Corner with the topic of ‘Preventing Child Marriage during the COVID-19 Pandemic’, which was held on the 26th of January 2021. Policy Corner is a discussion forum for cross policy stakeholders to exchange ideas, data and information concerning children’s rights. These stakeholders include government officials represented by Ministry of National Development Planning (Bappenas) and the Director General for Regional Development of the Ministry of Home Affairs. Meanwhile, young people are represented by several Regional Child Protection Commission (KPAD) and youth representatives. PPA activists are represented by the Indonesian Women’s Coalition (KPI).
The discussion covered several interesting issues, from regulations and laws that cover child marriage, child marriage trends during COVID-19, factors that cause and effect child marriage, the National Strategy for Preventing Child Marriage, and the Regional Development Planning and Budgeting Strategies in order to reduce child marriage rates. The results of this discussion was then summarized into a Policy Brief which contains various strategic policy recommendations to prevent and eliminate child marriage in Indonesia.
The speakers of the discussion explained various trends that have led to the high rate of child marriage in Indonesia was discussed. In terms of policy and regulatory design, Indry Oktaviani, Adolescent Health and Agency Program Manager, Plan Indonesia stated that the absence of coordination between different policies is an important issue that needs the attention of policy makers. For example, between Law Number 16 of 2019 concerning Marriage and Law Number 7 of 2017 concerning General Elections there is no synchronization and consistency between limits of the age of marriage and the age of voters. In addition, the main causes of child marriage in Indonesia is the concern over premarital sex, as well as parents who decided that their child is ready to be married.
Across 18 provinces in Indonesia, the rate of child marriage increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Woro Srihastuti Sulistyaningrum, Director of Family Women Children, Youth and Sports, at Bappenas, stated that this was due to various factors. One of which was decreased income and poor family economic conditions due to the impact of the pandemic, which then prompted parents to immediately marry their children as a solution. This a short term solution to reduce the economic burden on families. In addition, the problem of limited face-to-face counselling services for adolescents and counselling that can only be done online which can be ineffective is another factor that contributes to child marriage.
Various sources and other discussion participants confirmed that community thinking, economic conditions, and culture are some of the main challenges in preventing and suppressing the number of child marriages. In fact, in terms of regulations, Law No. 1 of 1974 on child marriage has undergone significant changes, where the age of marriage for girls has changed from 16 years to 19 years and the allocation of dispensation for child marriage is to be granted for urgent reasons only. Although in terms of regulations there have been many changes that should be able to contribute to the prevention of child marriage, there are still many challenges to be found in implementing them.
Lia Anggie, Representative from the Indonesian Child Protection Commission (KPAI) said, “59% of the public has not been exposed to information regarding the changes to laws on child marriage. In terms of enforcement, the child marriage laws have not been implemented in the best manner, for example 38,686 cases were filed for dispensation cases and 36,377 cases were granted their dispensation throughout 2019. ” At a regional level, Suci Apriani, KPAD of Kediri Village, also stated that in 2020 there were 20 child marriage cases in Kediri Village alone.
To prevent and reduce the rate of child marriage, a lot of effort is needed to change the perception of society, especially parents. In addition, synergy from various stakeholders is required, such as cross-sector collaboration involving government and non-government institutions. It is also important to encourage regional participation, especially from child forums, child-friendly schools, as well as community and religious leaders to raise awareness about the dangers of child marriage. Plan Indonesia has established the Policy Corner, a monthly policy dialogue that discusses various policy issues related to child equality and the rights of girls. In addition to serving as a discussion forum for stakeholders to discuss, each Policy Corner will be used to disseminate information in the form of a Policy Brief containing analysis and policy recommendations that will be submitted to policy makers and other stakeholders.