Legislating Social Change in an Islamic Society: Indonesia's Marriage Law
29 Pages Posted: 13 Feb 2015
Date Written: 1996
In 1974 Indonesia passed a National Marriage Act that imposed a minimum marriage age of 16 for girls and 19 for boys. In this paper we evaluate the efficacy of the Act in achieving the objective of reducing the frequency of child marriage. We examine data from a large demographic survey which shows that statutory minimum age rules have had little if any direct effect on the rate of underage marriage by girls. The data show that while there has been a steady decline in the number of girls marrying below the age of 16, the marriage law has not had an appreciable effect on that trend. We interpret this “failure” of the law to affect behavior as resulting primarily from a popular conviction that a marriage is valid if performed in accordance with Islamic law, regardless of conflicting statutory requirements. But while the Marriage Act has not prevented the practices it prohibits on the model of direct legal intervention, it has, we believe, affected marriage age less directly. We suspect that the values of individual autonomy and choice embodied in the law, together with other modernizing influences, are challenging traditional beliefs about femininity and parental authority on which those practices were based.
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