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Early Arranged Marriages in Indonesia Essay

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Updated: May 17th, 2021


Modern societies strive to achieve gender equality. They ensure that men and women receive equal opportunities to thrive. Many traditional cultural practices are oppressive towards women. Cultural practices do not provide women with the necessary opportunities to thrive away from their family lives. Certain societies still practice activities that are oppressive to women. Such practices include female genital mutilation and early arranged marriages. However, these practices are slowly declining due to the efforts of various groups. Early arranged marriages prevent girls from achieving their full potential. It forces girls to drop out of school to look after their husbands and children. This practice has been a part of the traditional Indonesian marriage culture for a long time. However, the government should ensure that it takes steps that lead to the end of this practice, as early-arranged marriage does not portray Indonesia as a country that supports women’s rights and gender equality.

Historical background

The appropriate age for marriage is a contentious issue in various countries. In most traditional Indonesian cultures, marriage was the prerogative of the parents. Parents rarely consulted the children on matters of marriage. In such societies, parents married off their children at a tender age. Parents arranged most of these marriages, and the children, especially girls, did not exert their will on the choice of spouse. Parents usually took into consideration the readiness of the children for sexual intercourse. In most instances, girls were married off soon after their first period. The parents and families of the children were directly responsible for the marriage. The children had little control over their marriage partners (Blackburn & Bessell 107).

In the contemporary world, the decision on marriage is more individualistic. Parents or older members of the family have rarely involved in making the decision on marriage. Instead, the decision on married involves mainly the two people who intend to get married. In such a situation, the age of marriage becomes very important. The two people must be sufficiently mature to make well-informed decisions while bearing in mind the responsibilities of marriage and adult life (Blackburn & Bessell 108).

In the contemporary world, there is a demarcation between childhood and adulthood. Parents should ensure that marriage does not affect the sanctity of childhood. However, parents and older members of the family are not the only parties that should ensure there is the protection of the sanctity of childhood. The state is also concerned with the protection of the sanctity of childhood. There are various laws that help in the protection of the sanctity of childhood. States have laws regarding the age of consensual sexual intercourse, employment, or marriage. People who violate the laws, and hence affect the sanctity of childhood, face stiff penalties. However, these laws have been the source of widespread public controversy in various societies. This is because the laws may contravene the social setting of the society (Blackburn & Bessell 108). Indonesia is one of the countries where the issue of marriageable age faces widespread public controversy.

There has been a gradual increase in the age of marriage in Indonesia. The increase in the age of marriage started in the second half of the twentieth century. An increase in the average age of marriage resulted in an increase in educational attainment and economic growth. The trend in Indonesia was also prevalent in other East Asian countries. In 1971, 37% of women between the ages of 15 and19 were married. However, in 2003, less than 10% of women in this age bracket were married (Nilan 66).

Different provinces in Indonesia have different rates of early marriage. Historically, the province of Java had the highest rates of teenage marriage in Indonesia. However, over the years, there has been a steady decline in early marriage in the province. West Java used to have the highest rates of teenage marriage. Other provinces have slowly surpassed teenage marriage rates in the province. Cosmopolitization of West Java is the major reason that has led to the reduction in teenage marriage rates in the province. Change in population patterns and urbanization of various parts of the province, especially the areas around Jakarta, is one of the major factors that has led to the reduction in teenage marriage (Jones and Gibhaju 4).

During the late 1990s, the Indonesian government created new provinces by splitting existing provinces. The previous provinces had groups with different cultural backgrounds. However, the splitting of the provinces created smaller provinces that have a lower number of communities with different cultural backgrounds. During this period, the government created the province of Gorontalo. Most of the people who inhabit Gorontalo are Muslims. Gorontalo has one of the lowest average ages of marriage. The province of Gorontalo was an offshoot of the province of North Sulawesi. The province of North Sulawesi remained a predominantly Christian region. Prior to the split, the province of North Sulawesi had a relatively low rate of teenage marriage. However, after the split, the province of North Sulawesi remained as a region with a relatively low rate of teenage marriage. This is despite the fact that the province of Gorontalo has a very high rate of teenage marriage (Jones and Gibhaju 5). This shows that religion plays a significant role in early marriage.

Causes of early arranged marriages in Indonesia


Poverty is one of the major causes of early-arranged marriages in Indonesia. Lack of a stable source of income makes parents view raising their children as a burden. In addition, parents view girls as a potential source of income. The income is mainly in the form of the bridal price that the potential husband of the girl would pay the parents. Parents prefer marrying off their children to rich men who would be able to take good care of the children. Thus, when parents marry off their young children, they think that they are helping the children have a better life. Most parents who marry off their children while young think that the marriage would help improve the well-being of the remaining children. This is because it would enable the parents to take good care of the remaining children due to the reduction of the burden of rearing the children (Nour 53).

In addition, parents view early marriage as a method of improving the social status of the family. Marrying a girl into a rich family creates close social ties with the rich family. This may ultimately have an economic benefit to the family. In some instances, the girls themselves prefer to get married to rich families. This is because such a marriage would improve their social status and economic situation. The girl’s rich husband would be able to feed her well and dress her lavishly.

However, early marriage traps the society in the vicious cycle of poverty. Early marriage makes women have a long period of sexual activity. Since these women do not usually have access to contraceptives, they have a high probability of giving birth to many children. Having many children has profound economic consequences on the family and the society. It traps the society in the vicious cycle of poverty. Failure to finish school also traps the young girls in the vicious cycle of poverty. The young girls cannot obtain good jobs. Therefore, they may end up working as migrant workers, which has little protection (Osman para 11)

Failure to enforce laws

Various countries have laws that strive to protect the sanctity of childhood. One of the laws that protect the sanctity of childhood is the laws that set a minimum age for marriage. The Marriage Law of 1975 set the minimum age for Indonesian women and men to marry as 16 and 19 years, respectively. Anybody who marries or facilitates the marriage of an individual who is below the minimum age faces the risk of severe punishment from the government (Nilan 69).

However, underage marriage continues to take place even after the enactment of the law. Failure to enforce the laws makes some parents not know that they are breaking the law by marrying their daughters at a low age. In addition, the girls themselves may not know their rights and legal protection that is available to them.

Religious and traditional practices

Indonesia is a predominantly Islamic country. Therefore, Islam plays a significant role in Indonesian culture. According to the Islamic religion, marriage is the only social setting through which two people can have sex. Islam considers it an abomination for two people to have sex outside marriage. It is vital for a girl in an Islamic family to be a virgin when she gets married to her husband (Nilan 69). A girl who marries when she is not a virgin discredits the honor of the family. Therefore, families strive to maintain the honor of the family by ensuring that the girl is still a virgin prior to getting married.

One of the common means families use to protect the chastity of the girl, and therefore, the honor of the family is marrying off the girl while still young. In such a situation, the girls are not even ready for sex. The girls are also not ready for childbearing, which becomes one of her responsibilities upon marriage. The effect of the Islamic religion on early marriages is clearly visible in the provinces that are predominantly Islamic. Indonesian provinces that are predominantly Islamic have a high rate of teenage marriage. Gorontalo and North Sulawesi highlight this fact. The government split the province of Gorontalo from North Sulawesi. Gorontalo is a predominantly Islamic region, whereas what was left of North Sulawesi is predominantly a Christian. After the split, Gorontalo recorded high rates of teenage marriage, whereas North Sulawesi has low rates of teenage marriage (Jones and Gibhaju 5).

In the Islamic religion, it is common for a man to marry an underage girl. In fact, Prophet Muhammad, one of the most significant prophets in Islam, married a seven-year-old girl. Therefore, Indonesian Muslim leaders openly support teenage marriage. In fact, several Islamic leaders in Indonesia have married teenage girls. Some of the girls are as young as nine years old. Other Muslim leaders support this practice instead of criticizing the leaders who marry teenage girls. The government is usually reluctant to prosecute Islamic leaders who marry underage children due to the prominence of the Islamic leaders in society. Prosecuting the Islamic leaders would make the government raise a huge political and religious debate. The problem of child marriages among Islamic leaders is not just common in Indonesia. It is also a major problem in other countries. In the UK, a Shi’ite mosque leader agreed to marry a 12-year-old girl as long as the parents of the child did not tell anyone (Kisiel para 2).

The Indonesian culture also plays a significant role in promoting early-arranged marriages. In Indonesian culture, marriage is usually a family affair. Underage girls do not usually have control over their choice of partner. In some instances, the parents of the girl do not even inform the girl of the marriage. The parents would accept the bridal price on the girl, and the husband’s family would come and fetch the girl. However, boys usually have a say in their choice of bride.

Conflicts and Disasters

Conflicts and disasters increase the economic pressure that families face in bringing up their children. Famine, droughts, and natural disasters may make families that would have otherwise not considered early marriage turn to it. Early marriage makes families accept a bridal price for the underage girls in the hope that this would reduce their suffering and that of the underage child. Drought has forced Indonesian parents to accept a bridal price for their daughters several times (Myers and Harvey 9).

Consequences of early marriage

Early motherhood

One of the main consequences of early marriages is early pregnancy and motherhood. Underage girls usually fall pregnant and become mothers within two years of the marriage. However, brides who are too young to live with their husbands until later after marriage does not fall under this category. Early pregnancy and childbirth have serious consequences both on the underage girl and on the baby. Childbirth before attainment of the age of 20 increases the risk of infant and maternal mortality and morbidity (Choe, Thapa, and Achmad 8).

According to the Indonesia Demographic and Health Survey of 1997, infants of mothers who are under the age of 20 years are 33% more likely to die in their first year of life than infants of 20-29 years old mothers (Choe, Thapa and Achmad 9). Therefore, early motherhood leads to a significant increase in infant mortality. One of the reasons for increased infant mortality of children born to underage mothers is that the underage children do not have the necessary skills that would help them in taking good care of the child. In addition, lack of education makes the girls be unable to take good care of their children. Therefore, young married girls are less likely to take their infants for immunization. In addition, young married girls are less likely to seek prompt treatment for their infants than their educated counterparts (Otoo-Oyortey and Pobi 45). In addition, the underage girl is not yet psychologically mature to enable her to take good care of the infant.

Sexual and reproductive health

Girls who marry at an early age do not have enough sexual information. In addition, since the girls have little or no schooling, they do not know their rights. This makes them be unable to negotiate for safer sex. An Indonesian study revealed that 13 percent of married women did not know about condoms (Otoo-Oyortey and Pobi 45). This increases the risk of young married girls contracting sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS. In addition, young married girls are more likely to contract sexually transmitted due to sexual contact with their spouses, who, by virtue of their age, have a higher risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases.

Underage girls do not usually have enough sexual information. Therefore, when the girls get married to older men, they experience their first sexual encounter when they are not well prepared. This may force the girls to have a memory of sexual trauma due to their first sexual encounter. Unfortunately, the girls may carry this image throughout their lives as most cultures treat sex with secrecy (Otoo-Oyortey and Pobi 45).

The physiology of the married girls also makes them more prone to sexually transmitted diseases than other women. The lining of the vaginas of the young girls does not have enough protective cells that may prevent them from infection from sexually transmitted diseases. In addition, sexual intercourse can easily erode the cervix of young girls. This increases their vulnerability to sexually transmitted diseases (Otoo-Oyortey and Pobi 48).

Early marriage and gender-based abuse

Early marriage makes girls experience disempowerment. This is due to the significant age difference between the underage girl and her husband. In most instances, underage girls get married to men who are far much older than they are. The significant age difference results in unequal power dynamics between the young married girl and her husband. It results in unequal partnership between the spouses, in which the wife has very little power in decision making within the union. This makes underage married women become isolated from society. The girls become quieter and lose the close friendships they had prior to the marriage. Isolation and loss of friendships break the social networks that the girl may turn to during hardships. Lack of support systems makes young married girls have low self-esteem. In addition, a large age difference between an underage girl and her husband makes her become a widow at a very early age (Otoo-Oyortey and Pobi 45).

Abuse is a common occurrence among young married girls. The husband may abuse the girls either physically or psychologically. Failure to know their rights and the significant age difference makes it difficult for young married girls to defend themselves from abuse. Some of the husbands of the young married girls may be of the same age as the girls’ fathers. This makes the young married girls think that their husbands are justified in beating them up (Otoo-Oyortey and Pobi 45).

Early arranged marriage and education

Girls usually terminate their education once they get married. Families usually consider girls to have crossed the threshold of education after they get married. Therefore, the education of the young married girl is not a priority to either the parents or the new husband of the young girl. The girls have to assume the responsibility of bringing up their children and looking after their homes. Lack of strict enforcement of laws that prohibit the marriage of underage girls makes the girls attain a low level of education, as parents are willing to marry off their daughter immediately after they reach puberty (Myers and Harvey 14). Therefore, enforcement of laws that prohibit the marriage of underage children would increase the attainment of education of the children. This would increase adult literacy in the country. Increased adult literacy would increase the country’s economic development, as educated women can engage in various economic activities.

In most countries, the marriage of underage children is illegal. However, this does not prevent this practice from taking place. Parents force their daughters to drop out of school to get married. The school management may be unaware of the early marriage of underage children. In cases where the school management is aware of the marriage of the underage girls, they may be reluctant to report the practice as they may view it as a private or family matter that does not warrant their interference (Myers and Harvey 14).

In some instances, there may be educational opportunities available to the underage girls, but the girls would still drop out of school to get married. The quality, cost, and content of education determine whether girls drop out of school to get married. Parents may be unable to pay for the schooling of the girls forcing them to drop out of school. In addition, teachers may not give special emphasis to the education of the girl as they think that the girl would not stay in school for long. This reduces the girls’ interest in education and forces them to drop out of school (Myers and Harvey 14).

Keeping girls in school is one of the most efficient methods of reducing underage marriage. In addition, keeping girls in school increases the age of first sexual experience and reduces the rates of infection of HIV and AIDS of the girls (Blackburn and Bessell 128). Keeping children in school for long periods helps in prolonging the period of childhood. This reduces the adulthood activities that the society may demand the children to engage in (Blackburn and Bessell 136). This was the main factor that fueled the enactment of the Marriage Law of 1974. The 1974 Marriage Law increased the legal age for marriage. This ultimately increased the number of years that girls spend in school. This ultimately helps in economic development as the women can seek gainful employment by providing their professional skills in economic development. In addition, keeping girls in school increases the empowerment of women, as they are able to understand their rights. Since women form a sizeable percentage of a country’s population, empowering women leads to economic development. A country that does not empower its women loses a sizeable percentage of its pool of knowledge, which would be beneficial in the economic development of the country.

Early marriage and Gender equality

The Indonesian culture is generally egalitarian. Most Indonesian traditional cultures give women significant bases of power and independence. Most Indonesian traditional cultures allow economic participation of women and give women the right to own property. Traditional Indonesian cultures consider women as clever and equal economic partners in marriage (Malhotra 435).

In the Indonesian culture, parents are the main parties that initiate marriage. Sons may choose the girls they would like to marry. However, in most instances, the parents choose the choice of partner for the girl for her first marriage. Parents would arrange for the wedding of their daughter just after the daughter attains puberty. In so doing, parents ensure that the daughter gets married while still a virgin. However, women can choose their husbands in their subsequent marriages (Malhotra 435). Failure to give women the chance to choose their first husbands portrays a high level of inequality.

The Indonesian marriage system keeps the option of divorce open to both couples after marriage. Either spouse may initiate divorce if the marriage is not fulfilling. In most instances, the woman initiates divorce if she is unhappy with the marriage. Divorce gives women the right to their children and inheritance (Malhotra 435).

However, most of the young married girls do not know their rights. Hence, they would not be able to exercise their rights and seek divorce if they are unhappy with the marriage arrangement. The young married girls do not know the avenues that they may use to obtain help if they are unhappy with the marriage arrangement. The girls end up staying in unfulfilling marriages and living very unhappy lives.

Tackling early arranged marriage

To tackle the problem of early-arranged marriage, the government must tackle the social and economic dimensions of poverty. The government should ensure that women acquire social and economic skills that would improve their livelihoods. The government should improve girls’ education, empower women and ensure that there is gender equality. In addition, the government should be able to cater to the diverse needs of women in both rural and urban societies (Otoo-Oyortey and Pobi 48).

The government should create an environment in which young girls can claim their rights without fear of victimization by society. The government should also create an enabling environment in which young girls can develop skills that would help them increase their ability to make a livelihood. The government should create innovative training programs that would help both married and unmarried girls obtain gainful employment. The training should enable women to obtain gainful employment that is non-domestic. Active participation by members of the community is critical in various government initiatives that strive to reduce underage marriage. The government should ensure that there is active community participation in creating safe places for organizing various groups that are vulnerable to arranged marriage (Otoo-Oyortey and Pobi 49). The ultimate success of various initiatives depends on the level of participation and coordination between the government, the civil society, and the girls themselves.


Early marriages make it hard for women to realize their true potential. It forces women to drop out of school and relegates them to doing domestic chores. This leads to the loss of a sizeable workforce, which may help in economic development. In addition interferes with the social, psychological, and physical development of the child. Early marriages break the social ties that are critical when to the woman when she is facing various problems. In addition, girls who marry have an increased risk of suffering from gender-based abuse from their spouses. Despite the presence of various laws that help in protecting the sanctity of childhood, early marriages still continue unabated in various parts of Indonesia. Therefore, it is critical for the government and other relevant parties to collaborate in eliminating this practice from society. Failure to eliminate the practice would lead to wastage of the precious lives of a significant proportion of girls and women. has

Works Cited

Blackburn, Susan and Bessell, Sharon. Indonesia. Southeast Asia Program Publications at Cornell University. 63.1(1997): 107- 141. Web.

Choe, Minja Kim, Thapa, Shyam and Achmad, Sulistinah. “Early marriage and childbearing in Indonesia and Nepal.” East-West center Working Papers. 108.15 (2001): 1-22. Web.

Jones, Gavin W. and Gibhaju, Bina. “Trends in age at marriage in the provinces of Indonesia.” ARI working paper.105(2008): 1-29. Web.

Kisiel, Ryan. Mailonline. 2012. Web.

Malhotra, Anju. Journal of Marriage and the Family. 59.1 ( May 1997): 434-450. Web.

Myers, Juliette and Harvey, Rowan. “Breaking vows: Early child marriages and girl’s education.” Plan. 2011. Web.

Nilan, Pam. Journal of Youth Studies. 11.1 (2008): 65-82. Web.

Nour, Nawal M. Reviews in Obstetrics & Gynecology. 2.1. (2009): 51-56. Web.

Osman, Nurfika. “Indonesia survey says early marriages lead girls into lives of desperation.” JakartaGlobe. 2010. Web.

Otoo-Oyortey, Naana and Pobi, Sonita. Gender and development. 11.2 (2003): 42-51. Web.

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