Child marriage is a common but complex issue. Most of us may think that the lack of education opportunities and unreasonable traditions are the root causes of the issue. This time, we will look at it from the perspective of household manpower and uxorilocality.
In Ratanakiri, a remote area of Cambodia, 59% of children get married before 18. During a visit, we talked to some girls and found that the problem could be attributed to their poor livelihood.
Over 90% of the people in Ratanakiri are farmers but flooding occurs frequently in the area. Farmers occasionally have no harvest or income and surprisingly they think child marriage is a “solution” to it. Ting Din, 19, dreamt to be a nurse, but her dream was shattered at the age of 9 when her mother lost sight in one eye and her father got kidney problems. She had to drop out of school and shoulder the family’s financial burden.
The uncivilised tradition of child marriage seems to be the light in the darkness. According to a local tradition, a man has to move into his wife’s house after marriage. In other words, a girl can bring additional manpower to her family by getting married. So does Ting Din. It was tough for her to make money alone so she decided to marry at the age of 17.
As Ting Din wished, her husband helped with labour work; however, she still lost in the battle with the reality. She got pregnant! Not only does she need to go farming, but she also has to take care of one more person. As a result, things get worse. They only had chilli, soy sauce and rice to eat and her daughter Ly Houy was born with just 2.1kg.
Although Ly Houy’s condition has improved since Ting Din joined parenting workshops, her dream of being a nurse is gone forever.
Back in Hong Kong, there are so many ways we can help the girls, like supporting their education or vocational training. By breaking the barriers of reality, girls like Ting Din will not have to be tortured by the consequences of child marriage.
Before I leave, I wish little Ly Houy good health, success in finishing school and attainment of her goals.
Photo: Tsang Wing-kai
*This article was published on 8 Nov 2019 in Ming Pao.