Child brides occur in every corner of the globe, with a total of 39,000 child marriages occurring daily. Though activists in some Arab countries have long been fighting this issue, one predominantly Muslim country in Southeast Asia just beat them to it.
This week, Indonesia's parliament agreed to raise the minimum age for marriage to 19 for women, a ruling that is expected to lead to a decline in child brides in the country. This came following a unanimous agreement to revise the country's existing marriage law. Under these laws, girls were previously allowed to marry at 16 and boys at 19. In some cases, however, the parents of younger girls may ask religious courts, which have no minimum age set in place, for permission. The changes to the existing laws will take effect within the next three years.
According to UNICEF, 14 percent of girls in Indonesia are married before the age of 18, and 1 percent are married before turning 15. Indonesia is actually the eighth highest number of child brides in the world, according to Girls Not Brides, a global partnership of civil society organizations working to end child marriage.
Most governments in the world still allow child marriages to take place. The World Economic Forum states that 117 countries around the world allow child marriages either because there is no age specification or it is allowed under certain circumstances. That's two-thirds of the world's countries.
In Indonesia, some of the factors that force girls into marriage include poverty, so-called family honor, social norms, and religious laws, according to CNN.
"The Indonesian parliament's decision is a positive step towards recognizing that girls are entitled to the same opportunities in life as boys," Rachel Yates, executive director for Girls Not Brides, told CNN in a statement.
"Ending child marriage will not be achieved by laws alone," she added. "While laws and policies are essential in preventing child marriage, we also need to change the attitudes that make child marriage acceptable in the first place," she said.
Activists in Arab countries have long been fighting to change the situation for girls, with one in seven girls in the region marrying before the age of 18.
As a country with multiple religions, the Lebanese law, for example, grants the authority to the various religious courts over personal matters, leaving women under sectarian personal status laws rather than a unified governmental one. Article 9 of the Lebanese Constitution gives religious authorities the freedom to impose their own laws on various issues including marriage, divorce, and child custody.
In Lebanon, there is no minimum age for marriage, as each religious sect has distinct personal status laws governing marriage, divorce, and inheritance. Some of these laws allow girls younger than 15 to get married. Women's rights groups in the country, such as KAFA and the Lebanese Democratic Women's Gathering (RDFL), have regularly launched campaigns calling upon legislators to end child marriage and ban marriage before the age of 18.
Countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt have also been working to change their laws to curb child marriages in their countries. However, amendments to certain laws often come with loopholes, meaning strict implementation is not guaranteed. Let's hope we live to see countries in the Arab world move in the same direction as Indonesia.