Child marriage remains the norm in central mountains

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Hoa is only 17 but has been married for three years, a fate that befalls hundreds of girls in Vietnam’s central mountainous region.

Ho Thi Hoa lives in Phuoc Thanh Commune in Quang Nam Province’s Phuoc Son district with her parents, siblings and husband Ho Van Tien, 20, in a small house with a corrugated iron roof and few belongings besides a few pots and pans.

Ho Thi Hoa is cooking meal for her family. Photo by VnExpress/Dac Thanh.

Ho Thi Hoa cooks a meal for her family. Photo by VnExpress/Dac Thanh.

Three years ago, while studying in eighth grade, she fell in love with Tien and became pregnant. She quit school and had her marriage arranged by both families.

However, at 14 and living in poverty, and with no knowledge of or experience in childcare she lost her child at three months. Now she stays alone in the house, cooking and waiting for her family to come back to eat.

Hoa admits the consequences of loving and marrying too early have been huge: “I regret getting married early. I want to go back to school, but I don’t have that chance now.”

But in the central province, marrying at a very early age is not unusual.

“It is normal for us to get married early, our parents don’t object to it,” Hoa says, adding that some of her friends have done the same and had children.

Ho Thi Van, 15, of nearby Phuoc Nang commune fell in love with Hung, 20, last year.

Not long afterward Van became pregnant, but because of Hung’s poverty they started living together without holding a wedding ceremony. He works as a hired laborer and his young wife stays at home to take care of their child.

Ho Van Phuc, vice chairman of Phuoc Thanh Commune, said last year there were 13 child marriages in the commune.

“Every time students come home from school (boarding school for ethnic minority students) for the summer or Lunar New Year holidays, we get several marriages.”

Because marriages are encouraged by older members in the family and young people do not know better, they end up in child marriage, he explained.

A child-marriage couple raises their two children in a small hut in Quang Nam province. Photo by VnExpress/Dac Thanh.

A couple that married very young raise two children in a small hut in Quang Nam Province. Photo by VnExpress/Dac Thanh.

According to the vice commune chairman, child marriages are a “headache” for local authorities.

If they try to use administrative measures such as not allowing couples to register their marriage or not issuing birth certificates, the parents of the couple think up ways to circumvent the law, he lamented.

For instance, grandparents can apply for a birth certificate for a baby born to underage couples by adopting it.

“When the parents reach marriage age, they can go to their commune to register as a family and change their names,” Phuc said.

Ho Quang Huong, vice chairman of Phuoc Son District, said the district has started a campaign to reduce child marriages and consanguineous marriages in ethnic minority areas.

“When people’s awareness is raised, child marriages will be reduced. But changing people’s perception is not easy.”

According to statistics from the Population and Family Planning Center of Phuoc Son District, in the last five years the number of child marriages has been decreasing year after year: 143 in 2015, 64 in 2016, 48 in 2017, 40 last year, and only 17 in the first half of this year.

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