On Dec. 19, 2011, the United Nations General Assembly declared Oct. 11 as the International Day of the Girl Child in order to recognize girls’ rights and the unique challenges they face around the world.
Every year there are more than 15 million vulnerable girls worldwide deprived of their rights to education, and worst, coerced into child marriage.
I have recently been to remote rural areas of Indonesia, visiting young girls who have been affected or under the threats imposed by child marriage.
According to the United Nations, it is estimated that one in every five girls in Indonesia is married before the age of 18. Due to its population size, Indonesia is among the 10 countries with the highest absolute number of child brides — a record of 458,000 married girls nationwide.
A research study by Plan International in 2011 showed that 34 percent of Indonesian children aged between 13 and 18 are married, and 92 percent of them are girls.
Let’s read some of the girls’ stories and help combat child marriage together.
In a small village in Central Java, Indonesia, I met Musri Munawaroh, a strong-willed girl who had almost fallen victim to child marriage.
She is the only child to her farming parents, but was forced to quit school and get married at the age 14, as her father was afraid of attracting criticisms from conservative villagers if he turned down a marriage proposal for his girl.
However, Munawaroh didn’t want to terminate her study, or to get married at such an early age.
After the forced marriage, she refused to talk to or to live with her husband, and continued to stay in her parent’s home, crying all day long.
Seeing their only daughter suffer, Munawaroh’s parents regretted their decision and agreed to her divorce.
The local custom was that married girls cannot go back to school and study. Fortunately, with the support of the school principal, Munawaroh was able to resume her studies, and is now working towards her goal of becoming a teacher.
The Munawaroh family is now living happily together.
During the trip, I was glad to meet Nurul Indriyani, the ambassador of “Because I am a Girl” of Plan Indonesia.
Indriyani, now 19, was Plan International’s sponsored child. She also lives in Central Java.
Her village perceives girls who have not married before the age of 15 as miserable “expired virgins”. Indriyani was not convinced and determined to dispel the village custom.
In 2012, with the help of Plan International, Indriyani presented the issue of child marriage during a United Nations event marking the International Day of the Girl Child in New York.
Currently Indriyani is actively serving in Children Forum to campaign against child marriages in her village.
It is encouraging to learn the stories of these determined Indonesian girls. Though the number of child brides in Indonesia is still high, there have been improvements made in recent decades by providing girls with quality education.
Plan International has proposed to the Indonesian government that the minimum legal age for marriage be raised from 16 to 18. The organization is also helping establish community-based child protection groups, educating boys and girls about the problems of early marriage.
Plan International Hong Kong held the 2015 Youth Conference “Justice: Because I am a Girl” in collaboration with City University of Hong Kong in September, and will stage the “Donate a Pencil Campaign” at Telford Plaza (Kowloon Bay), PopCorn (Tseung Kwan O) and Hysan Place (Causeway Bay) on Oct. 10–11.
We hope Hong Kong people will know more about the issues of child marriage, and take action to support young girls’ education.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept. 30.
Translation by Darlie Yiu
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