The Cruel Cycle of Poverty and Child Marriage

Poverty and gender inequality are said to be key drivers of child marriage in Vietnam, particularly in ethnic minority communities in rural areas. The first national survey on the socio-economic conditions of 53 ethnic minority groups conducted by the Committee on Ethnic Minority Affairs (CEMA)  and the General Statistics Office in 2015 revealed that the average rate of child marriage among the groups was 26.6% while some ethnic minority groups had rates of early marriage from 50% to 70%. Nguyen Thi Tu, director of CEMA’s Ethnic Minority Department said at a conference on Thursday that child marriage occurred in all cities and provinces and among all ethnic minorities in Vietnam. The rate of child marriage is particularly high in ethnic minorities living in the northern mountainous, Central Highlands, some central provinces and the Mekong Delta. The overall rate of child marriage in ethnic minorities is 26.%, 18 times higher than the rate in the majority Kinh people population (1.4%) and 10 times higher than the national rate (2.5%). In Vietnam, despite the Law on Marriage and Family setting the minimum age for marriage at 18 for women and 20 for men, 11%of woman aged 20-49 years were married or in a union before the age of 18. “Child marriage negatively impacts other socio-economic issues including school dropouts, leading to a lack of opportunities for decent employment and children born with poor health or susceptible to illness and deeper poverty,” she said. In largely ethnic minority populated areas, 83.2% of female minors are reportedly illiterate, 58.2% of students from ethnic minorities stop attending school at secondary school level or under 15 years old, a popular age for child marriage among many ethnic minorities. Ha Hung, vice head of CEMA stressed that early marriage constrained girls’ opportunities for education, training and work in the future. “Early marriage also leads to early pregnancy while the body hasn’t reached full growth, significantly affecting girls’ psychological and physical development. Early marriage also contributes to the risk of domestic violence and other forms of gender based violence,” he said. “Early marriage violates child rights. Overall, early marriage directly affects socio-economic development, making a vicious cycle of poverty among ethnic minority groups. This also degrades quality of human resources in ethnic minority areas,” he added. Shoko Ishikawa, UN Women Country Representative in Vietnam said the key to breaking the cycle of child and early marriage was empowering and investing in women and girls. “Every girl and woman at risk of or affected by child and early marriage must have equal access to quality services such as education and training, legal and health counseling, including for sexual and reproductive health, shelter and other social services,” she said. All government bodies should ensure that their planning, budgeting, decision-making, policy making, and monitoring reflect the needs of girls and boys and that investments in girls’ empowerment are prioritized in all areas, she added. In 2015, the then Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung approved a scheme to reduce child marriage and close-kin marriage in 2015-2025. CEMA official Tu said following the scheme, communications to improve public awareness of child marriage and relevant laws has been boosted and carried out under various forms depending on the features of each locality, such as on TV, radio, newspapers, posters or talks community leaders. Under the scheme, CEMA selected 15 provinces with the highest rate of child marriage in the country to implement a pilot program reducing the practice, with volunteer clubs established to further communications. However, high poverty rate and outdated customs related to marriage challenged efforts made in the fight against child marriage, she said. “Ethic minority people have very low opportunities to get paid jobs, hence increased pressure to provide a livelihood and food for families. Many families consider their daughters getting married as a means to reduce economic pressures on the family,” T? said.

Children decide their marriage

At the Thursday conference “Preventing and ending child and early marriage: learning from promising strategies and good practices”, four non-governmental organizations in Vietnam – Plan International, Child Fund, World Vision and the Institute for Studies of Society Economy and Environment (ISEE) released a study, highlighting that “Children are the ones who decide their marriage”. Child and early marriage are usually forced marriages and children are usually the victims of outdated traditional customs, beliefs or adults’ whims. However, the study of people from ethnic groups of Mong, Muong and Van Kieu in four provinces –Dien Bien, Yen Bai, Hoa Binh and Quang Tri - found that in many cases, children under the lawful age for marriage wanted to get married early. They announced their decision and even told their parents they would commit suicide, or leave home if they were opposed. With increasing use of the internet, social networks and mobile phones, the children can easily contact each other. The boys are usually more active in seeking marriages, as according to traditional customs and thinking, a boy becomes more mature and has higher social status if he gets married. The girls, though less actively than boys, want to marry for fear their lovers will find someone else and she will be left on the shelf. In many cases, the girls want marriage after becoming pregnant or seeing other girls in the neighborhood get married. “No more schooling, get married” is another excuse for child marriage. Children drop out as their family face financial difficulties or unemployment. A 21-year-old woman from Mong ethnic group in Yen Bai Province said that she got married when she was 15 and quit school, as her parents requested. “I like to go to school but I cannot as I have a child,” she said. ( July 1)