At least seven underage couples in West Nusa Tenggara’s (NTB) East Lombok regency have gotten married amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with one official citing prolonged physical absence from school as one reason why.
According to reports, the children are middle school and high school students, and were married in traditional ceremonies, which are therefore not officially recorded by any Religious Affairs Office (KUA).
Various officials told local media outlets that the marriages were based on mutual love, and not due to online schooling that has temporarily replaced in-person schooling amid the pandemic.
However, Arqom, who heads the religious school department at the East Lombok office of the Religious Affairs Ministry, said that some of the students got married because they have spent too much time away from school.
Arqom identified seven students from Aik Mal and Wanasaba districts, wherein child marriages are reportedly prevalent. Those areas usually receive guidance and education from the ministry as part of an effort to prevent child marriages, but the measures have been temporarily suspended since the start of the pandemic.
Though the public health crisis may have increased incidents of child marriage, it should be noted that NTB has long struggled with the issue. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), more than 31 percent of girls aged 19-24 in the province were married before the age of 18.