26 November 2010

Indonesia survey says early marriages lead girls into lives of desperation

Jakarta Globe - November 24, 2010

Nurfika Osman, Jakarta -- A new study has found that Indonesian girls aged 10 to 18 who were forced into early marriage struggled to secure good futures for themselves or their children due to higher health risks and less access to education.

The Health Ministry study, which collected data from over 20,000 respondents from across the country, showed that 68.5 percent, a little over 13,700, came from villages, many of them from far-flung regions, forcing them to rely upon substandard health care."These girls are very vulnerable. They are too young to marry. They are not ready, psychologically or physically. When they do get pregnant, they are far more vulnerable to health risks than your average adult," Tin Affifah, a researcher from the Health Ministry, said on Tuesday.

Tin said the study, conducted between July and August of this year, also showed that the majority of the girls surveyed came from low-income families. Only 31.5 percent of the girls in the poll lived in an urban area.

"There is this intergenerational cycle of marrying early. It effects the quality of the younger generation and it really needs to be a major concern for more people," Tin said.

According to Tin, this year's Basic Health Study, or Riskesdas, found that 9 percent of the girls aged between 10 and 14 in the survey had been forced into marriage. The remainder were married at the ages of 15 and 18.

Tin said the survey also discovered that 12.5 percent of the girls, about 2,500, had failed to finish school. "Only 38 percent had even finished elementary school," Tin said.

Henny Warsilah, a sociologist from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), said on Tuesday that another problem with early marriages that Indonesians should be aware of was accompanying human rights violations, including trafficking.

"These girls have no future. They are at risk for unemployment. They often end up choosing to become migrant workers, and legal protections for Indonesian migrant workers remains low," Henny said.

"Many here still consider it shameful if a teenage girl remains unmarried upon reaching the age of 17. Thus, marriages are hastily arranged as soon as families learn the girls have begun to menstruate," she said.

"Indonesia needs to issue policies that will legally force parents to send girls to school and only allow them to marry when they reach adulthood." Henny added that, as most of the girls come from low-income families, the government should provide these families with some financial support so they could start small businesses.

"There should be a nationwide promotional campaign to encourage these girls to become decision makers, making them a more integral part of society."

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