Indonesia's parliament has agreed to raised the minimum age at which women can marry to 19, in a ruling which is expected to curb child marriage in the country.

Changes to existing laws will take place within three years.

Under current laws, girls can marry at 16 and boys at 19. Parents can also ask religious courts or local officials to authorise marriages of younger girls, with no minimum age in such cases.

According to a statement issued by Indonesia's House of Representatives, MPs unanimously agreed to amend the existing law. The statement was released on Tuesday September 17. 

Indonesia has the eighth highest number of child brides in the world, according to Girls Not Brides, a global partnership committed to ending child marriage.

According to UNICEF, one in four girls in Indonesia is married before they turn 18. Poverty, ideas of family honour, social norms, customs and religious laws are factors that force Indonesian girls into child marriages.

"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, said 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.”

“The society still encourages girls to get married in their teenage years, otherwise they will be considered spinsters,” said Masruchah of the National Commission on Violence Against Women.

Child marriage has been blamed for causing maternal and infant deaths in the country, as well as encouraging child labour, Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Minister Yohana Yembise said in a statement.

“Finally, after 45 years (of the existing marriage law). This is a present for Indonesian children,” she said.

Top 10 countries with the highest absolute numbers of child marriage*

1. India (15,509,000)

2. Bangladesh (4,451,000)

3. Nigeria (3,538,000)

4. Brazil (3,034,000)

5. Ethiopia (2,104,000)

6. Pakistan (1,909,000)

7. Mexico (1,479,000)

8. Indonesia (1,459,000)

9. Democratic Republic of Congo (1,300,000)

10. Uganda (787,000)

*Number (in thousands) of women 20-24 years old who were first married or in union before they were 18 years. Based on the data from the Girls not Brides website

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