Child marriage still a threat to Indonesian women


Siti Muthoharoh tries to smile through the tears as she recalls the difficulty of her first child's birth when she was a teenager.

"At that time, I was not ready to get pregnant and give birth to the first child," the 22-year-old told Anadolu Agency.

"The trauma after giving birth to the first child has not disappeared. I've had to face a second pregnancy. This is all very hard for me."

Muthoharoh is from Tuban, a fishing port in in East Java where early marriage is a common occurrence among poor families.

Her parents work a small farm and earn the equivalent of around $4-a-day to look after their four other children.

Muthoharoh, who appears appreciably older than her age, was married at 17, not long after she graduated from junior high school. Her husband is many years her senior but is relatively wealthy and her parents felt unable to refuse when he proposed.

After a year, she gave birth to a son, followed 18 months later by another boy.

Indonesia has a high rate of maternal mortality and, according to UNICEF, one in six Indonesian girls marry before the age of 18, or around 340,000 a year. Approximately 50,000 wed before reaching 15.

The country, which has a population of 250 million and where the legal age for marriage is 16 for girls and 19 for men, is among the top 10 in the world for child brides.

Activists have called for the minimum age for girls to marry to be raised to 18, arguing this would allow them to finish their education and reduce the threat of exploitation, domestic abuse and death during childbirth.

Muthoharoh was nursing her children while her friends were still studying. "Even just to use make-up, I did not have time," she said. "All my energy was gone on taking care of them."

Her mother Zulaikah said she did not expect Muthoharoh to suffer so much because of her early marriage. "If I knew she would be this difficult, I would not let her get married at such a small age," she said.

In a small village near Madiun, a city 100 kilometers (60 miles) southwest of Tuban, another young bride is seeking work to support her young family.

Sari, who like many Indonesians uses one name, was also married in 2012, when she was 17. She was prompted to wed young when her father remarried following the death of her mother.

Unable to finish her education, she now works as a domestic maid in the city. Her husband has not worked since their daughter was born.

"I was forced to leave my baby to work in town," Sari, 22, told Anadolu Agency.

Since getting married, she has also worked as a maid in Jakarta, Singapore and Hong Kong.

"Whatever I do, anywhere, I do not care," she said. "It's all for the sake of my daughter, so she can go to school and be smart. A mother will do anything for her child, right?"

Indry Oktaviani, who coordinates policy reform at the Indonesian Women's Coalition, said early marriage had more than halved over the past 30 years but still remained too high among poor, rural communities.

She said many young mothers gave birth to malnourished babies while the mothers ran a greater risk of cervical cancer in later life.

"They will become the burden of the state in the future," she said, referring to the health risks linked to early motherhood.

There are signs of challenges to the tradition of young marriages. Three young women filed a judicial review to the Constitutional Court in April, calling for the marriage age limit for women to be increased to 19.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Women's Empowerment and Child Protection is conducting a study as it prepares amendments to the marriage laws.

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