Indonesian court failure to protect children from lives of early marriage
Indonesia’s Constitutional Court on June 18 announced its ruling on the 1974 Marriage Law, rejecting requests to change the marriageable age for girls from 16 to 18 and to make it possible to legalize interfaith marriages.
The legal marriageable age for girls thus stands at 16 and couples of different faiths will likely remain unregistered by the state and so will their children.
On the marriageable age for girls, plaintiffs had pointed out the need to adjust the age to 18 because 16 years remained within the bracket of the definition of a child in the laws on child protection, pornography, manpower and others.
As the defeated plaintiffs said, we must now strive harder to prevent child marriages by delaying marriages and pregnancies through the 12-year compulsory education program.
The court, which has issued a few progressive rulings regarding children, had raised different interpretations on the marriageable age across different faiths, arguing that changing the marriageable age is part of the legislature’s authority.
It added that progress in areas such as nutrition and technology may speed up a child’s sexual drive, which “should be channeled through legal marriage as ruled by religion, so that a child is not born out of wedlock.”
The only woman on the ninemember panel, Maria Farida Indrati, dissented, citing the dangers of child marriages, saying that “the understanding ... of human rights has progressed far beyond the time when the Marriage Law was passed.”
Yet the court seemed more concerned to avoid the cardinal sin of altering the Marriage Law, even at the risk of more child marriages and the virtual state protection of pedophiles.
Regarding interfaith couples, the plaintiffs had requested that the clause in the Marriage Law stating that a marriage is legal according to religious rules be dropped, given the problems generated by this clause for couples of different beliefs.
Many agonize for years over who should convert to the other’s faith —a violation, the plaintiffs said, of the constitutional guarantees on freedom of worship and the right of each citizen to establish families.
The plaintiffs included law students who said that the Marriage Law should be adjusted given the more reformist 2006 law on population administration, which recognises marriages of different faiths.
The court, however, ruled that “religion determines the validity of marriage while the law determines the validity of administration...”
The plaintiffs have tried their best in the interests of children and citizens who fail to find happiness because of their different faiths. An older generation of Indonesians might agree with religious leaders who stipulate that prospective brides and bridegrooms should stick to spouses of the same faith to better ensure family harmony. But life is not like clockwork.
The court has upheld respect for religious beliefs, but in doing so has failed to protect children and provide legal certainty and the possibility of happiness to citizens in interfaith unions. This is an editorial published by The Jakarta Post on June 25.