Which Indonesian Women Marry Youngest, and Why?

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Author: Gavin W. Jones
Date: Feb. 2001
From: Journal of Southeast Asian Studies(Vol. 32, Issue 1)
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Document Type: Article
Length: 6,235 words

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Although the Indonesian Marriage Law of 1974 set a minimum age of marriage for females of 16, among some groups -- notably Sundanese in West Java and Madurese in East Java -- early marriage remained common well after the Marriage Law was promulgated. Early marriage has since declined but certainly not disappeared among these groups. This paper analyses trends in early marriage and reports on afield study among the Madurese.


In most parts of Indonesia, age at marriage for females has traditionally been very low, and although age at marriage has been rising universally throughout Southeast and East Asia, the rise in Indonesia has been less marked than in many other countries. [1] One of the key concerns of the 1974 Marriage Law was to prevent excessively young marriages by setting a minimum age at marriage of 16 for females. [2] However, this provision was strongly opposed by many Muslim groups on the grounds that the Koran does not set any such lower limit for age at marriage. As will be shown in this paper, the marriage law has not been conspicuously successful in preventing child marriage.

Child marriage has a number of adverse consequences that are serious enough to require efforts to accelerate its demise. These adverse consequences are well documented. They include psychological ill-effects, reproductive health consequences of early initiation of sexual activity and childbearing, and placement of the young bride in a position of multiple subordination: to her parents and to her husband, who is normally considerably older in the case of child marriages. [3]

The youngest-marrying groups in Indonesia

In a book published a few years ago, I tried to determine which regional or ethno-linguistic groups in Indonesia have had the youngest ages at marriage for females. The finding was that rural West Java had the lowest ages, and that possibly these were matched by the Madurese population of East Java, for whom the evidence was a little contradictory.

In rural West Java, among cohorts born between the early part of the twentieth century and the end of the 1940s, one-quarter of girls were married by their fifteenth birthday, one-half by their sixteenth birthday, and three-quarters by their eighteenth birthday. These patterns were very stable over time. ... By the late 1960s and early 1970s, a slight rise in marriage ages was detectable, but it was a very modest rise, adding less than a year to the earlier prevailing age at marriage. [4]

Recent data from the 1995 Inter-Censal Survey show in a very general way that the regions with earliest age at marriage have remained the same, with West Java and East Java showing earliest ages at marriage, averaged over a large number of cohorts (Table 1). This contention is further supported by data from the 1991 and 1994 Demographic and Health Surveys, except that the 1994 survey shows that median age at marriage for women aged 25-49 in Lampung was slightly lower than in West Java. [5]

Data issues and sub-groups studied


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Gale Document Number: GALE|A76609606