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Yes I do
In Indonesia almost one in nine girls is destined to be a child bride. Suci (19) lives in Lombok. And because she despairs of the situation there, she has decided to do something about this age-old tradition.
Sitting in the courtyard of her childhood home, Suci admits that she used to be quite a shy girl. “I would stay in the background and I was very reluctant to speak in public.” It seems almost incongruous to hear the words coming from the mouth of this now tough and spirited young lady from a village not far from the Lombok capital of Mataram.
It all started a few years ago when her mother introduced her to Forum Anak Dessa (FAD), a village-level youth forum. In the context of FAD, young people organise meetings about children’s rights, they are taught how to organise events and they are coached in leadership skills.
FAD was established by the Yes I Do Alliance (YIDA), a collaborative programme that combats child marriages and promotes gender equality in countries that include Indonesia. The Yes I Do Alliance started up in 2016 and comprises Plan International Nederland, Amref Flying Doctors, CHOICE for Youth and Sexuality, KIT Royal Tropical Institute, Rutgers and the Netherlands’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
In six countries, the Alliance is jointly tackling issues underlying FGM, child marriages and teenage pregnancies by amongst other teaching young people about sexuality and their rights. The programme is being implemented in Indonesia, Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, Kenya and Ethiopia.
On an island where even talking about sex is frowned upon and only married couples are permitted to buy condoms, the FAD is a welcome haven for youngsters who crave information. “We get together every week and talk about things that we just cannot discuss with our parents, or even at school,” laments Suci. “Topics like menstruation, domestic violence and child marriages.”
With great pride, Suci shows a video of her first initiative, which is based on what she learned at FAD. She can be seen shouting through a megaphone and holding up a huge banner that says: “Stop child marriages, support girls’ rights!” Together with several friends, she walks along the main street of her village. Her objective? “To collect as many signatures as possible opposing child marriages! Eventually, more than 600 people signed our banner.”
“As a girl here, from the moment you are born you have no chance.” That’s how Suci sums up the level of gender inequality on “the island of a thousand mosques” (which is how Lonely Planet describes Lombok). “Girls here are being fast-tracked to be perfect brides for their future husbands. But can’t we have dreams too?”
Young people are given scant information about sex. Being in a relationship before you are married is simply not done, and the same is true about premarital sex. Because of all this, coping with puberty in Lombok is pretty tough, if not impossible. And what are your options if you fall in love?
“Getting married is the only way you can have a relationship, or sex,” continues Suci. “And as soon as a girl is married off she effectively becomes her husband’s property and has to move in with him or his family. Furthermore, domestic and sexual violence are commonplace.”
Suci saw with her own eyes how her friends and classmates were being married off, along with the disastrous consequences it had for them. “They were no longer allowed to go to school and often became pregnant very quickly, despite the fact that their bodies were insufficiently developed.”
She firmly believes that the time is now ripe for joint action. “We need young people to make their voices heard, as well as our parents, teachers, religious leaders and politicians. This is something we have to tackle together. Girls also have the right to a worthwhile future!”
In 2019, the age at which girls are legally allowed to marry with parental consent was increased from 16 to 19. However, parents can still apply for “dispensation” that grants legal permission for a child marriage.
Suci is determined to combat child marriages in Lombok together with other youngsters. “Now that we are aware of our rights, change is unstoppable,” she insists, the fire burning clearly in her eyes.
Story by: Marlies Pilon
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