Women face socioeconomic problems due to early marriage

Women in West Nusa Tenggara (NTB) suffer from poverty, low education and a high rate of early marriage, says government data.

Data at the NTB Central Statistics Agency (BPS) in 2013 showed more than 61,000 women were susceptible to such problems.

Based on Social Ministerial Decree No. 24/1996, women facing socioeconomic problems are defined as widows with children, women between the ages of 18 and 59 who are not yet married and cannot meet their daily basic needs and those women without adequate earnings.

Widespread cases of early marriages, low levels of education and a high poverty rate have been highlighted, as well as failed poverty alleviation efforts.

Data at the BPS NTB branch showed that 61,533 women facing socioeconomic problems were found in Mataram city, Bima city and the regencies of North Lombok, West Lombok, Central Lombok, East Lombok, Sumbawa, West Sumbawa, Dompu and Bima.

"The number of women prone to socioeconomic problems in NTB is quite high, but in terms of percentage, it's only 2.5 per cent of the female population in the province. Early marriage and low education levels are still the main factors," said NTB Women's Rights Protection and Empowerment Agency head T. Wismaningsih.

"Women in this group are not very poor and not yet affected by social issues, such as human trafficking and prostitution, but in general they are susceptible and could become embroiled in them," said Wismaningsih.

She cited the Malaysian widow issue in Lombok and Sumbawa, where women were left behind by their husbands who became migrant workers in Malaysia.

These women had to support several children alone and could fare better if their husbands sent them money. However, if their husbands were illegal migrant workers, sending back money could become problematic.

Wismaningsih deemed the high rate of early marriage in Lombok and Sumbawa to be the main trigger for the growing number of women with this issue in the province.

Based on data at the NTB Women's Rights Protection and Empowerment Agency, the rate of early marriages of women below the age of 15 was 5.8 per cent of the 5.4 million population of NTB.

"This is quite high compared to the national level of only 3.5 per cent," she added.

Many parents, especially in rural areas, prefer to immediately marry their children at a young age to prevent premarital sex.

"Early marriage is prone to divorce because they are emotionally, mentally and economically unprepared," said Wismaningsih.

The high rate of women prone to socioeconomic problems in NTB also has an impact on the high level of child neglect cases, she went on.

Based on data announced by the BPS NTB in 2013, the number of neglected toddlers and children in NTB stood at 21,418 and 205,116 respectively, in 10 regencies and cities across the province.

"Directly and indirectly, there's a correlation between these issues and child neglect," said Wismaningsih.

NTB Child Protection Agency legal division head Warniyati said her agency received at least 20 reports of child neglect annually.

Generally, she explained, they were the children of migrant workers who left the country and entrusted their children to relatives and even neighbours, who were unrelated.