Can child marriage be stopped? One girl did and wants others in Indonesia to follow

A young actress plays the role of Giorgia, 10, forced to marry Paolo, 47, during a happening organised by Amnesty International to denounce child marriage, on 27 October, 2016 in Rome. (AFP)
Updated 30 August 2017
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Can child marriage be stopped? One girl did and wants others in Indonesia to follow

KUALA LUMPUR: In Sanita Rini’s village on the Indonesian island of Java, child brides were so common that girls who were not married by the time they turned 16 were labelled “old virgins.”
Like other parents in the village, Rini’s tried to marry her off — to a motorbike driver seven years her senior — as soon as she celebrated her 13th birthday.
“I was shocked. I cried, I was angry,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“I knew from my friends who married young, they can’t continue school, their life is over,” said Rini, now 22.
Rini’s story is not uncommon in Indonesia, which is among the top 10 countries in the world with the highest number of child brides, according to campaign group Girls Not Brides.
But she stopped her child marriage and now, along with a group of teenage girls, Rini is seeking to empower others to fight back through a new network, the Youth Coalition for Girls.
One in four girls marry before they turn 18 in Indonesia, according to the United Nations’ children agency UNICEF. On average over 3,500 Indonesian girls are married off every day.
Globally, 15 million girls become child brides each year, exposing them to greater risks of exploitation, sexual violence, domestic abuse and death in childbirth.
Campaigners say poverty and tradition continue to drive underage marriage in Indonesia, a sprawling archipelago in Southeast Asia with a population of 250 million people.
STRIKING A ‘DEAL’
The UN defines child marriage as a formal marriage or informal union before age 18. However in Indonesia, the minimum age a girl can wed is 16, and 19 for boys.
Rini said her father, a construction labor, and mother, who runs a grocery store from home, tried for two years to marry her to the man from her village to help the family’s finances.
The youngest of five siblings, Rini resisted and her parents eventually dropped the idea after she struck a “deal” with them.
“I asked my parents how much they have spent on me, for my education. I said I would repay them this money if they let me continue my studies. If they forced me to get married, they would not get a single cent,” she said.
The coalition hopes stories like Rini’s can inspire other girls to stand up for their rights on issues ranging from child marriage to sexual violence.
Launched in March, the group now has 180 members aged between 15 and 24 in 11 provinces across the archipelago who want to tackle gender equality through talks and book projects.
The coalition has a few survivors of child marriage and Rini, the group’s deputy head, said sharing their experiences help girls who are trapped to envision a different future. “I want to tell the girls, they are not alone. They have the power to say no,” she said.
The coalition also reaches out to parents to tell them the importance of education and encourage them to let their children continue their studies until at they are at least 18.
A university graduate, Rini has spoken about her experience in Japan and the Netherlands and her parents are proud of her.
The new coalition comes as women’s rights campaigners in Indonesia broaden their movement by engaging men and religious leaders.
In April, female Muslim clerics issued an unprecedented fatwa — a religious edict which is not legally binding but influential among Muslims — to declare underage marriage harmful and said its prevention was mandatory.
Rini admits the network is only in its infancy, but she hopes by taking this step, politicians will start engaging youths themselves when drafting policies and enacting laws.
“My dream is to see boys and girls in Indonesia enjoy their rights equally,” she said.


Performance artist Marina Abramovic returns to native Belgrade for retrospective

Updated 21 September 2019

Performance artist Marina Abramovic returns to native Belgrade for retrospective

  • ‘You know for me it’s very emotional to be here, and it’s not easy, there’s lots of nostalgia, lots of memories that are forgotten’
  • Doling out advice for youth, the artist said: ‘It is very important to follow your heart, your ideas, without compromising’

BELGRADE: The boundary-pushing performance artist Marina Abramovic returned to Belgrade Saturday to inaugurate the final exhibition of a major touring retrospective, marking her first professional homecoming in nearly 50 years.
Dressed in black, the 72-year-old invited reporters to Belgrade’s Contemporary Art Museum at dawn for the “symbolic cleansing of her career.”
The retrospective, titled “The Cleaner,” exhibits more than 100 works from Abramovic’s past 50 years of provocative performances, many of which saw the artist put her own body on the line.
“You know for me it’s very emotional to be here, and it’s not easy, there’s lots of nostalgia, lots of memories that are forgotten,” she said of her return to the Serbian capital, a place she said shaped her outlook as an artist.
“I learned three things here: from my grandmother I learned spirituality … from my father I learned bravery, and from my mother willpower and discipline,” she said.
The exhibition, which has been touring Europe since 2017, features photo montages and video reels replaying many of Abramovic’s most daring works, including one where she laid out a table of 72 objects, among which figured scissors and a loaded gun, and invited spectators to use them on her “as desired.”
Another piece from 1997, titled Balkan Baroque, saw her sit and clean 1,000 beef bones while singing folk songs from her youth, earning her a Golden Lion award at the Venice Biennale.
Young Serbian artists also re-enacted some performances live on Saturday, including one in which a naked man and woman stand inside a doorway, forcing museum-goers to squeeze past their bodies.
Doling out advice for youth, the artist said: “It is very important to follow your heart, your ideas, without compromising.”
“To live for your art, which requires a lot of sacrifice,” she added.
At the start of the exhibition, Abramovic briefly sat down to re-enact a 2010 performance in New York named “The Artist is Present.”
That three-month-long piece saw her sit silently, without moving, for seven hours a day, six days a week, as visitors took turns sitting across her.
Asked if she would use her fame to bring more support to Serbian artists, Abramovic said:
“I am not a politician, but an artist, and I believe that this exhibit will show politicians that investing in culture will bring it to higher levels.”
The exhibit will be open in Belgrade until January 20, 2020.