Date: Sun, 16 May 1999 18:13:37 -0500 (CDT)
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Tradition Limits Girls' Future
By Kafil Yamin, IPS, 12 may 1999
BANDUNG, Indonesia, May 12 (IPS) - Asih is only in her 40s, but she is already a grandmother four times over. She married at 12 and had three children by the time she turned 15.
When she was 27, she saw her eldest daughter, Atikah, get married. Atikah was all of 14.
According to the Ministry of Population and Coordinating Body for Family Planning, the average marrying age in Indonesia is 23 years for women and 27 for men. But in many rural villages and towns across the country, the figures are far lower, especially for girls.
One result is that generations upon generations of rural Indonesian women have been deprived of the chance to seek higher education, or to choose lives outside of childbearing and housework.
Often, this has also led to a vicious cycle of poverty, since young couples, often both from poor families, are too ill-prepared for work other than the most menial of jobs.
"Parents cannot afford to send their children to higher schools," says Hasan, village head of Cicirug in West Java, where 2,500 families, including those of Asih and her two young married daughters, live.
"They cannot even keep them for very long," he says. "They encourage their daughters to marry once they complete their basic education. When a girl gets married, her parents feel they've been relieved of a burden."
But economics is not the only factor behind this practice. Dr. Kusnaka Adimihardja, director of the Indonesian Resource Centre for Indigenous Knowledge at Padjadjaran University, notes that there is a Prophet's decree that says, "Have your children married as soon as they are eligible."
At the same time, Kusnaka notes that there is also a local saying that goes, "No matter how far a woman goes, she will end up in the kitchen."
"So parents think, why should they send their daughters to higher schools?" says Kusnaka, explaining how village residents tend to think. "Someday men will take them. And just like their mothers, they will serve their husbands, spend most of their time in the kitchen. Giving them higher education is wasteful."
Indeed, early marriage has become so common that even girls from well-off families are doing it, although still a few years later than their poorer counterparts. The richer young brides range from 15 to 18 years old while the poor ones get married between 12 to 14 years.
"Girls feel inferior if they have not been married after 15," says Cicirug village chief Hasan. "People think they are not attractive to men. It is a shameful taint on families."
"Better-off families suffer this inferiority worse," he adds, arguing that the richer families are more conscious of what people think.
Nana Suryana, an official of the Gununghalu district administration, says the government has not been remiss in trying to convince rural young women to continue their studies and postpone marriage. He points to the nine-year compulsory basic education that is free as one of the government's efforts to discourage early marriages.
Students, however, are often made to pay other fees that their teachers say go to books, cooperatives and student-parent unions. Nana himself also admits that the Gununghalu district office has failed to build new schools to accommodate the growing number of students.
To many villagers, government officials are all talk and no action. Comments Enung Rustinah, a 28-year-old Cicirug homemaker: "They told us to (refrain from early) marriages. They told us to send our children to higher education. But they don't give us jobs. They don't our children free education."
Bandung State Islamic Institute senior lecturer Yaya Suryana says one solution to the problem is for the government to cobble together an economic action plan. "In many places," he says, "children are a burden. They won't be if families have enough resources to raise them."
He also says there should be a review of the traditional views of religious doctrines. "The Prophet's saying has been mistakenly perceived because he also called on his followers not to leave their descendants behind in poor and weak conditions," argues Yaya.
"It means that if (early) marriage brings about poverty and weaknesses,it should be avoided," he explains.
But Yaya thinks any intense campaign on the negative effects of early marriages would be best carried out by non-government organisations. This is because, he says, there is already public resistance to government appeals.
Meanwhile, demographers have noticed that more and more of those who marry early are getting divorced. Observers attribute the new trend to the immaturity of the young couples combined with the hardships brought about by the recession that is currently pummelling Indonesia.
"Men who feel they are no longer capable of feeding their family properly will leave their wives," says Hasan. "In return, wives will be more and more unhappy with their 'incapable' husbands."
In some villages like Cicirug, the situation has resulted in many young women getting married and divorced several times, and having children with each man they marry. "You may see small-sized families here, with two children each," says Nana, "but the wives and husbands may have (other) children."
He says that these days, the young women in Cicirug may have already gotten married four times by the time they turned 20. Nana says a woman often has two children during each marriage. "So when a woman enters her fourth marriage, " he adds, "she would already have had six children, and another two will soon follow."(END/IPS/ap-hd-pr/ky/cb/99)
Origin: New Delhi/RIGHTS-INDONESIA/
[c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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