This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Friday, April 28, 2017

Female Islamic Clerics in Indonesia Push to End Child Marriage

We usually think of Islam in terms of the Middle East, but in fact the four most populous Muslim nations are in Asia--Indonesia, Pakistan, India (even though Muslims are a minority there), and Bangladesh. Indonesia is the 4th most populous country in the world and its more than 200 million Muslims puts it on the top of that list. So...when we learn that a group of female clerics in that nation has called for end to child marriage, we need to pay attention. 
Female Islamic clerics in Indonesia have issued an unprecedented fatwa against child marriage. The fatwa, which is not legally binding but will be influential, was issued after a three-day congress of female clerics in the country. The clerics urged the government to raise the minimum legal age for women to marry to 18 from the current 16.
Indonesia is a majority Muslim country and has among the highest number of child brides in the world. According to the UN's children office Unicef, one in four women in Indonesia marries before the age of 18.
The existence of female Islamic clerics is itself not widely known, although the BBC reports that:
Female clerics, or "ulema", have existed in Indonesia for hundreds of years, but their role has been played down previously. Nowadays, they help empower their communities and lead educational institutes, organisers say.
The fatwa was driven by the shared knowledge that child marriage is bad for girls--it cuts off their education, often ends in divorce, and can leave the woman and her children in a much worse situation for the rest of their lives than if the marriage had been delayed.

Child marriage is an issue anywhere, not just in Muslim-majority countries. Indeed, I am a co-author on a paper that was highlighted in a poster session at the Population Association of America meetings going on right now in Chicago.
"Distribution of Adolescent Fertility in the Copán Region of Rural Honduras: Results From a Complete Census of 117 Villages", Holly Shakya, Center on Gender Equity and Health, University of California, San Diego; John R. Weeks, San Diego State University; Nicholas Christakis, Yale University
Watch this space for more details on our research findings--an astonishingly high percentage of Central American girls are married before reaching age 18. 

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