During the judicial review hearing against Marriage Law No. 1/1974 Article 7 (1) on Dec. 18, 2014, I was stunned by the testimony of an expert witness, a psychologist brought in by the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI). The debated article stated that the eligibility for marriage is at least 16 years old for the bride and 19 for the groom.
The expert witness blamed pornography as the main cause that corrupts the mentality of the nation’s youngster, linking it to her opinion in favor of “child marriage.”
I am a mother of two boys, one is 21 years old and the other 16. I have the same fear as other mothers on the danger of early marriage, promiscuousness, pornography, drugs, alcohol and bullying, aside from academic failure.
I believe that back in my teenage days in 1970s, life was so much easier because there was not as much temptation. The Internet did not exist yet, and neither did cellular phones. Drugs were around, but of lower quality and were not as easy to purchase. Birthday parties were celebrated at home with hard rock music. Pornography, in the forms of films and comic books or pulp fictions, was distributed in such limited circles that I only first saw porn when I was in college. As far as I remember, thankfully, none of my friends at the time fell into the traps of drugs or had to marry young because of an “accident.”
Data and analyses from the expert witness about pornography made me think, was I a bad mother? Because I’m a working mom, although I often work from home. Have I not been around when my boys needed me? Were they exposed to pornography because our house has Wi-Fi?
If it was true that I am an irresponsible mother, would I be willing to marry off my son at a young age with his young girlfriend “just” to prevent them from “falling victim” to pornography? And do I have the right to accuse that all parents have thrown their children into the trap of pornography?
It seems that the reason MUI insisted in maintaining the youngest age for a woman to marry at 16 is because “rather than seeing (pornography) and be tempted into doing premarital sex, it is better for them to be married.” And particularly if the girl is pregnant, the only solution is marrying her off, whether she wants to or not, or whether she is in love with the one who impregnated her or, worse, raped her. In the case of the latter, instead of punishing the rapist, the girl gets punished by forcing her to enter into a marriage with her rapist. Is that really a good enough reason to let the destiny of our daughters end this way? I think that would be the worst of the worst crime a parent could do.
Worse still, the MUI’s expert witness (I don’t know if she’s a mother or not, but she was certainly very judgmental of other parents) seemed to think that those who are able to marry young are girls and boys who like each other, who risk being tempted to do premarital sex due to exposure to pornography.
It was clear that for MUI, marriage is merely a way to “channel the libido in the way permitted by the religion (halal)” and that a woman’s body is merely an object of sex for men. If pregnancy occurs in that marriage, there is nothing wrong because she has a husband. And so, what about building a family of what Islam calls sakinah mawaddah warahmah (tranquil, loving and full of mercy)?
The expert witness only presented the data of impregnated girls, abortion rate and mortality rate during pregnancy and labor. But she did not reveal their cause or what the daughters have been through. Are shameless men or disguised pedophiles not predators of our daughters, ma’am? I guess not especially if they are kyai (a Muslim scholar), lawmakers, royal families or government officials who buy our daughters with dowry. Are you just going to close your eyes to such crime?
The testimony of the MUI’s expert witness was like throwing shit into already clogged dirty sewer. Instead of solving the problem, it only creates more problems. What’s the connection between a law that enables child marriage and the war against pornography? If you are angry with rampant and damaging pornography, wage the war against it, for example by urging the government to regulate children’s access to pornography, and strictly monitor the sales and distribution of pornographic materials as well as the service of Internet café. Remind parents to limit the use of Internet and phones for underage children or to guide children when using the Internet.
The proposal in favor of early marriage to save our children from premarital sex and pornography is like punishing children for our flaws. Instead of reminding parents, the government, religious leaders and law enforcers to be more empathetic towards children, whose lives are complicated because of the many temptations from technological advance, we rob their rights to go to school, to grow and have better future than us, their parents.
Studies have shown that child marriage creates myriads of problems. For one, it effectively denies girls better future, as they have to quit school, thus making them financially dependent for the rest of their lives. Child marriage has also been identified as the cause of a range of health problems nationally and globally, from maternal mortality to child’s malnutrition.
What will become of the children who are “forced” to marry and lose their youth? What will become of the babies of girls who should really be at school or playing, but have to be mothers? Following the destiny of their parents? Is that what we hope for our children or grandchildren?
Dewi Tjakrawinata is a women’s right activist and a member/co-founder of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women’s (CEDAW) Working Group Indonesia.