Female Islamic clerics in Indonesia have issued an unprecedented fatwa against child marriage. The fatwa, which is not legally binding but will be influential, was issued after a three-day congress of female clerics in the country. The clerics urged the government to raise the minimum legal age for women to marry to 18 from the current 16.The existence of female Islamic clerics is itself not widely known, although the BBC reports that:
Indonesia is a majority Muslim country and has among the highest number of child brides in the world. According to the UN's children office Unicef, one in four women in Indonesia marries before the age of 18.
Female clerics, or "ulema", have existed in Indonesia for hundreds of years, but their role has been played down previously. Nowadays, they help empower their communities and lead educational institutes, organisers say.The fatwa was driven by the shared knowledge that child marriage is bad for girls--it cuts off their education, often ends in divorce, and can leave the woman and her children in a much worse situation for the rest of their lives than if the marriage had been delayed.
Child marriage is an issue anywhere, not just in Muslim-majority countries. Indeed, I am a co-author on a paper that was highlighted in a poster session at the Population Association of America meetings going on right now in Chicago.
"Distribution of Adolescent Fertility in the Copán Region of Rural Honduras: Results From a Complete Census of 117 Villages", Holly Shakya, Center on Gender Equity and Health, University of California, San Diego; John R. Weeks, San Diego State University; Nicholas Christakis, Yale UniversityWatch this space for more details on our research findings--an astonishingly high percentage of Central American girls are married before reaching age 18.