Win for Feminist Movements in Indonesia as Government Takes Bold Steps to Curb Child Marriage

By Martha Flynn, Policy and Advocacy Officer, Equal Measures 2030

4 min readDec 5, 2019
Image: Courtesy of Plan International, Indonesia.

September 16th of this year saw a significant step towards Indonesia achieving its SDG commitment to eliminate the practice of child marriage by 2030. In a country with the eighth highest number of child brides in the world — 1,459,000[1] — the Indonesian Parliament momentously voted to amend the country’s discriminatory 1974 Marriage Law, which had set the legal age of marriage as 19 for boys but just 16 for girls.

Discriminatory laws such as these, coupled with patriarchal norms in political, religious and social life, have continued to prevent girls and women in Indonesia from fulfilling their rights.[2] The consequences of this for gender equality are clear: despite laws mandating political parties to field at least 30 % women in their list of parliamentary candidates, women only hold 18.2% of the seats in the Indonesian parliament.[3]

The Indonesian government’s decision to raise the legal age of marriage for girls is both historic and representative of the shifting political and public discourse on gender equality issues in Indonesia. This has in no small part been influenced by the unrelenting efforts of the country’s women’s rights movement which has worked tirelessly with community leaders and local and national decision-makers to establish policies and laws to address child marriage.

Among these civil society actors is KAPAL Perempuan, which has been Equal Measures 2030’s national partner in Indonesia since 2017. Through their EM2030-funded project, KAPAL has focused its efforts on raising the national legal age of marriage for girls in Indonesia, as well as pushing for district and community-level regulations to support this. Working in coalition with other women’s rights organisations, KAPAL has run campaigns at the local level to influence decision-makers, engaged directly with policymakers in national government, and generated qualitative and quantitative data to tell the stories of the survivors of child marriage.

2018 saw a shift in tides. After years of advocacy by women’s rights groups, the Constitutional Court granted a judicial review of the Marriage Law. Following testimonies from survivors of child marriage and expert witnesses such as KAPAL Perempuan, the Constitutional Court delivered an important verdict ruling that the current law was both discriminatory and unconstitutional. Alongside this, 18 women’s rights groups including KAPAL Perempuan met President Joko Widodo to draft a Presidential Decree to outlaw the practice.

In June 2019, the Constitutional Court’s decision reached the Office of the President, who called for a bill to amend the Marriage Law to be drafted by KAPAL and partners and debated by parliament. During a plenary session on 16th September 2019, the Indonesian parliament voted overwhelmingly to support an amendment to the Marriage Law which would see the legal age of marriage for girls rise to 19.

In addition to the advocacy of the women’s rights movement, KAPAL Perempuan see three key factors as having influenced government to proactively push forward a bill to prevent child marriage:

1. A strengthened network of gender champions within government, particularly female MPs, has enabled unprecedented access to and support in government for women’s rights organisations.

2. Media coverage of the issue coupled with campaigns run by Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have enabled the public to better understand how child marriage intersects with poverty, education, health and employment, thereby driving public support for a change in the Marriage Law.

3. Increasing the availability of local-level data, such as through KAPAL’s Sekolah Perempuan (networks of community-level data collectors), has grown the evidence-base on the issue and enabled CSOs to deliver more sophisticated data-driven advocacy.

Nonetheless, significant barriers remain to translating the revised law into a concrete reduction in child marriages. The Supreme Court is now taking steps to ensure the law is implemented, including regulating how dispensations are granted and allocating resources to monitor implementation. KAPAL will utilise funding from Equal Measures 2030 to target specific regions in Indonesia with high rates of child marriage, engaging with district-level decisionmakers to drive implementation of the law. They have already seen success in West Sulawesi and East Gresik where local decision-makers are working to integrate the ruling into their provincial regulations.

Though a great deal of work remains to be done to enable girls and women to fulfill their rights in Indonesia, the recent progress on child marriage is promising. It shows the power of using quantitative and qualitative data and evidence to shine a light on women’s rights issues and drive government accountability. Most importantly, in a country where 421 discriminatory regulations remain in operation,[4] it reflects the importance of sustained investment in feminist organisations advocating for policies, laws and budgets that defend the rights of girls and women.

[1] UNICEF, 2019. ‘Achieving the SDGs for children in Indonesia: Emerging findings for reaching the targets.’

[2] Equal Measures 2030, 2018. ‘Data Driving Change: Introducing the EM2030 SDG Gender Index.’

[3] Interparliamentary Union (IPU), 2018. ‘Women in national parliaments.’

[4] Indonesian National Commission on Violence against Women (Komnas Nasional anti Kekerasan Terhadap Perempuan — Komnas Perempuan), 2016. ‘National Human Rights Institution Independent Report Regarding the Implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in Indonesia, 2012–2016’.




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