It wasn’t out of the ordinary for Indonesia’s Minister of Women Empowerment and Child Protection to deliver a speech for International Day of the Girl Child.
Except that this year, the minister was a 19-year-old girl.
It started a few days before, when 21 adolescents aged 15-19 years from across Indonesia convened for a three-day Leadership Camp run by Plan Indonesia, UNICEF, The Indonesian Adolescent Girls Network (AKSI), and Youth Coalition for Girls. The goal was to discuss the ongoing problem of child marriage and enhance skills in communications, advocacy, and leadership – all in preparation for “taking over” the Ministry of Women Empowerment and Child Protection for a day.
Child marriage prevalence in Indonesia has stagnated since 2012, with little decrease in annual prevalence rates. Some 1 in 9 girls in Indonesia marry before 18; that’s 375 girls every day. Only six countries see more girls marry each year.
For years, there’s been discussion, both in civil society and in Government, of increasing the minimum age of marriage (from 16 to 18 for girls) and eliminating loopholes for religious exceptions to the current age limits. Seeing these 21 adolescents from across the country (selected from over 1,800 other adolescents through U-Report, a social media-based platform for youth and adolescents to express their aspiration) gave me renewed hope. I am confident these adolescent voices will be the key to influencing the Government's plans to address child marriage.
On 11 October, these adolescents “took over” the Ministry of Women Empowerment and Child Protection’s high-level posts for a day. A U-Reporter from North Sumatra, Ayu Juwita, was selected as Minister. Ayu led a meeting with her fellow deputies to discuss solutions to the problem of child marriage.
The meeting ended with 9 recommendations, which included legalizing a Government Regulation In Lieu of Law (Perppu) on Child Marriage Prevention, an executive order for the government, parents, and society to take responsibilities in addressing child marriage. The adolescents also urged the Ministry to work with local communities and religious leaders to raise awareness about why child marriage was harmful, and to boost access to education for girls who have already married by working with the Ministry of Education and Culture.
Ayu, the one-day Minister, delivered the 9 recommendations to Deputy of Child Development Ibu Lenny Rosalin after the meeting.
“I will make sure the Minister receives this for further discussion,” Ibu Lenny promised.
The youngsters also got the chance to visit former First Lady Sinta Nuriyah Abdurrahman Wahid. Ibu Sinta told them how her late husband, former President Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid, proposed to her when she was only 13 – but that she’d rejected the proposal: She wanted to finish her education first, and emphasized that education should never be sacrificed for marriage.
“My father was disappointed when I rejected Gus Dur's proposal. But I wanted to be a smart person. I wouldn’t be smart had I married young," she said.
Ibu Sinta’s inspiring story ignited the spirit of the adolescents who’d come together, all of whom promised to build support for ending child marriage in their communities.
Changing the Marriage Law regarding the minimum age of marriage might take a long time. But big changes start with small steps.
I am confident these adolescents going the ones who will trigger the change we need.
*Watch videos of the event here.