Fol­low­ing tra­di­tion

Viet Nam News - - Front Page - by Hoàng Thuùy

For gen­er­a­tions, mem­bers of eth­nic mi­nor­ity tribes in ru­ral ar­eas have got­ten mar­ried at a young age, but ev­i­dence shows that this prac­tice has a neg­a­tive ef­fect on young women.

It has been the tra­di­tion for gen­er­a­tions of girls of Rôø Côi Com­mune to tie the nup­tial knot while still un­der the age of 18. It there­fore comes as no sur­prise that the com­mune has be­come a hotspot for hav­ing the high­est num­ber of child mar­riages in Kon Tum Prov­ince's Sa Thaày Dis­trict.

Fig­ures from the com­mune's med­i­cal clinic showed that 10 child mar­riages took place in the com­mune in the first six months of 2013 while 12 such mar­riages in 2012, and nearly 50 by end-April 2011.

Child mar­riage has made a good num­ber of teenagers be­come par­ents. For ex­am­ple, Y Haèng, 18, is the mother of a two-year-old child. Her sis­ter Y B'Ríu, was mar­ried when she was 16, and is now the mother of two chil­dren, the el­dest of them aged seven.

"Our Xô-ñaêng peo­ple get mar­ried when we are very young. No man wants to marry a girl who has passed the age for mar­riage," Y Haèng ex­plained.

"There are 12 mouths to feed in our fam­ily, whereas we are al­lo­cated only 1,000 square me­tres of land for grow­ing cas­sava, thus the lack of food hap­pens all year round," she said.

The cus­tom of mar­ry­ing while still young, ap­par­ently for cou­ples to take part in the fam­ily work­force, has noth­ing to do with rice cul­ti­va­tion. Child mar­riage has been seen as lock­ing peo­ple into a vi­cious cy­cle of poverty that in­ex­tri­ca­bly links il­lit­er­acy with early labour.

As many as 703 of 1,101 house­holds in the com­mune are liv­ing be­low the poverty line of VNÑ550,000 (US$26) per month. Many of them are the out­come of child mar­riages.

Y Paéh, for­mer Deputy chair­man of Rôø Côi women's or­gan­i­sa­tion, said lo­cal au­thor­i­ties have not al­lowed mar­riages of young teens, but many of them have turned a deaf ear to sound ad­vice and dropped out of school to get mar­ried.

Since their mar­riages are not of­fi­cially ac­cepted, they are not en­ti­tled to cer­tifi­cates. They are also not al­lo­cated ex­tra farm land, and as a re­sult, many of them end up strug­gling to make ends meet.

Early mar­riage also has dev­as­tat­ing con­se­quences on the health of a young woman and her chil­dren.

"Many girls have al­ready given birth to two chil­dren by the time they are 19. They are not so well-off be­cause their young bod­ies are not fully de­vel­oped to bear chil­dren. As a con­se­quence, they can't work ef­fec­tively and are liv­ing in poverty," Y Paéh said.

Ac­cord­ing to the Kon Tum Depart­ment of Pop­u­la­tion and Fam­ily Plan­ning, an es­ti­mated 269 of 333 peo­ple polled were mar­ried and had chil­dren at a young age, and nearly 77 per cent of mar­riages in the prov­ince were be­tween un­der­aged boys and girls.

Common prac­tice

Child mar­riage re­mains wide­spread in the moun­tain­ous prov­inces of the North, North­west and Cen­tral High­lands of Vieät Nam, and this has had a neg­a­tive im­pact on the lives and liveli­hood of young girls.

A study con­ducted by the Gen­eral Depart­ment of Pop­u­la­tion and Fam­ily Plan­ning in 15 ci­ties and prov­inces showed that the pro­por­tion of child mar­riages against to­tal mar­riages was high in Haø Giang at 5.72 per cent; Cao Baèng, 5.1 per cent; Laøo Cai, 2.7 per­cent; and Sôn La, 2.6 per­cent, as well as Quaûng Trò at2.4 per cent and Baïc Lieâu at 2.1 per cent.

The study also showed that 30.7 per cent of re­spon­dents were mar­ried un­der the age of 19 while 0.2 per cent were mar­ried un­der the age of nine, 0.3 per cent at 14, one per cent at 15, and 3.3 per cent at 16. Ex­actly 5.8 per cent were mar­ried at 17.

Ñaëng Duõng Chí, di­rec­tor of the Hoà Chí Minh Na­tional Academy of Pol­i­tics and Pub­lic Ad­min­is­tra­tion's Viet Nam In­sti­tute of Hu­man Rights, noted that the num­ber of early mar­riages also in­creased in the plains and ru­ral ar­eas, par­tic­u­larly in the Hoàng (Red) River Delta prov­inces of Baéc Ninh, Haûi Phoøng and Thaùi Bình, as well as the Cöûu Long (Mekong) River Delta prov­inces of Tieàn Giang and Caàn Thô.

"Child mar­riage is a disturbing and alarm­ing is­sue that is tak­ing place not only in moun­tain­ous prov­inces but also on a na­tion­wide scale," Chí said.

In the Mekong Delta, for in­stance, early mar­riage has in­creased, with most brides at re­cent wed­dings rang­ing from 13 to 16 years old. In some cases, bride­grooms were only 14, said Dr Trònh Thò Kim Ngoïc of the Vieät Nam Academy of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy.

Th­ese mar­riages are low­pro­file, solem­nised in se­crecy and un­der-re­ported. They only come to lo­cal au­thor­i­ties' at­ten­tion when the cou­ple have chil­dren, Ngoïc added.

Worse, there is grow­ing ev­i­dence that child mar­riage and ma­ter­nal health are in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked. In­ter­na­tional stud­ies show that girls who give birth be­fore the age of 15 are five times more likely to die in child­birth than girls in their 20s. Where girls sur­vive child­birth, they are at in­creased risk of preg­nancy-re­lated com­pli­ca­tions and in­juries such as ob­stet­ric fis­tula, a med­i­cal con­di­tion in which a fis­tula or hole de­vel­ops be­tween ei­ther the rec­tum and vag­ina or be­tween the blad­der and vag­ina. Sixty-five per cent of all cases of fis­tula oc­cur in girls un­der­the age of 18.

Girls who give birth at age 18 or un­der face in­creased health risks that some ex­perts at­tribute to an un­der­de­vel­oped pelvic area. This poses sig­nif­i­cant risks to the health of new­born ba­bies as well.

Chil­dren born to young cou­ples are more likely to be un­der­weight, mal­nour­ished or stunted in their growth. Stud­ies show they are more likely to suf­fer con­gen­i­tal mal­for­ma­tion than other chil­dren.

Traàn Vaên Phong, di­rec­tor of the Hoà Chi Minh Na­tional Academy of Pol­i­tics and Pub­lic Ad­min­is­tra­tion's Vieät Nam In­sti­tute of Phi­los­o­phy, said it would be a bur­den for so­ci­ety to have a high pro­por­tion of peo­ple with phys­i­cal and men­tal dis­abil­i­ties.

Phong also noted that child mar­riages drove a confluence of mul­ti­ple fac­tors such as gen­der in­equal­ity, house­hold poverty, lack of ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion and em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties, fam­ily breakups and child ne­glect.

Th­ese prob­lems not only vi­o­late hu­man rights abut also threaten sta­bil­ity and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, Phong added.

Nguyeãn Thò Tö, di­rec­tor of the Com­mit­tee for Eth­nic Mi­nor­ity Af­fairs' Eth­nic Mi­nori­ties Depart­ment, cited the stark re­al­ity that many par­ents and young cou­ples have to work hard to pay for debts aris­ing from ex­penses in­curred at wed­ding par­ties.

Hard work and fa­tigue have added more pres­sure to the mar­riages and placed many young peo­ple in con­flict with their spouses, Tö said.

Rea­sons be­hind...

Un­der Vieät Nam law, the min­i­mum le­gal age for men to get mar­ried is 20 and for women, 18. Peo­ple who marry and live to­gether as hus­band and wife while be­low le­gal age are clas­si­fied un­der the cat­e­gory of early mar­riage.

There are var­i­ous rea­sons for early mar­riage, in­clud­ing cus­toms and tra­di­tion, poverty, il­lit­er­acy, de­mand for house­hold labour and un­em­ploy­ment.

A survey con­ducted in 2009 by the Depart­ment of Pop­u­la­tion and Fam­ily Plan­ning among the eth­nic Moâng and Dao fam­i­lies in Lai Chaâu and Cao Baèng prov­inces showed that most brides in early mar­riages were a few years older than their bride­grooms. Most of them had dropped out of school and joined the work­force early.

Ac­cord­ing to the survey, de­mand for more labour in bride­grooms' fam­i­lies was the main rea­son be­hind 54 per cent of the mar­riages.

Tra­di­tion also has a hand in child mar­riage. The K'rong and B'rau eth­nic peo­ple in Kon Tum Prov­ince's Bôø Y Com­mune be­lieve that boys and girls are ma­ture enough for mar­riage at the age of pu­berty. The prac­tice has been on­go­ing for gen­er­a­tions and is not sub­ject to law.

"They get mar­ried be­cause they are truly in love, which is much bet­ter than hav­ing pre­mar­i­tal sex with each other be­fore mar­riage. They get mar­ried early to sta­bilise their lives and work for a bet­ter liv­ing, so it's good," said a K'rong se­nior cit­i­zen.

Ngoïc cited a limited un­der­stand­ing of the Fam­ily and Mar­riage Law as another rea­son that bars eth­nic peo­ple from abandoning the prac­tice of early mar­riage.

Photo Vieät Thanh

Young mother: This 16-year-old mother in the Mekong Delta’s An Giang Prov­ince has two chil­dren. Child mar­riage is in­creas­ing in the re­gion.

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