11% of Vietnamese women get married before legal age

Despite the Law on Marriage and Family setting the minimum legal age for marriage at 18 for women and 20 for men, 11% of Vietnamese women aged 20-49 were married before the age of 18.

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The statistic was announced at a national conference on preventing and putting an end to underage marriage held in Hanoi this morning by the Committee on Ethnic Minority Affairs (CEMA), the UN in Vietnam and a number of relevant NGOs, with support from the Irish Aid and other funds.

Gathering more than 100 experts from international organisations, governmental agencies, local organisations and academia, the event discussed national and international experiences, effective strategies and interventions, and policy recommendations for Vietnam to address the issue of underage marriage.

Reports examined at the national conference showed that, globally, each year a total of 15 million girls marry before they reach there eighteenth birthday. 

Moreover, there are disparities across regions and ethnic groups, and communities that are left behind socio-economic development and progress towards gender equality are struggling with higher rates of child marriage. 

For that reason, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development sets Target 5.3 to eliminate all harmful practices including underage and involuntary marriage by 2030.

In Vietnam, the first national survey on social economic conditions of 53 ethnic minority groups conducted by the CEMA and the General Statistics Office in 2015 revealed that the average rate of child marriage among the 53 ethnic minority groups was as high as 26.6%, while some ethnic minority groups showed very high rates of underage marriage ranging from 50-70%.

Underage marriages result in a number of difficult problems to deal with, both in the Kinh majority and especially in the ethnic minority communities. 

Up to 40/53 ethnic minorities have a rate of child marriage of 20% or more; there are six ethnic minorities with a 50-60% rate of child marriage, especially in the Mong, Xinh Mun, La Ha, Gia Rai, Raglay and Bru-Van Kieu communities.

Against this backdrop, in 2015, the Government approved a scheme on reducing underage and consanguineous marriages among ethnic minority groups during the 2015-2025 period. 

During its implementation, the scheme has mobilised participation from international organisations and civil societies in Vietnam along with coordination from related ministries and agencies. 

In some localities with high rates of underage marriage, efforts have been made to reduce the number of underage marriages. Several provinces have taken initiative in planning and allocating funds for the implementation of the scheme.

At the event, lessons were examined on key factors and barriers that stand in the way of Vietnam developing a holistic and comprehensive approach to ending underage marriages.

The conference also identified opportunities for multi-stakeholder collaboration and integration of child and early marriage interventions into development and socio-economic programmes in domestic context, particularly in ethnic minority regions, as well as determined support needed to make commitments a reality.

In his speech, Ha Hung, Deputy Minister of CEMA, stressed that early marriage has constrained girls’ opportunities for education, training and finding decent work in the future. 

Early marriage also leads to early pregnancy when the body hasn’t yet reached full maturity, significantly affecting girls’ psychological and physical development, while contributing to the risk of domestic violence and other forms of gender based violence, as well as violating child rights.

Overall, early marriage directly affects socio-economic development, resulting in a vicious cycle of poverty among ethnic minority groups, Hung said, adding that this is also linked to the reduced quality of human resources among ethnic minority areas.

Shoko Ishikawa, UN Women Country Representative in Vietnam, stressed that the key to breaking the cycle of underage marriage lies with empowering and investing in women and girls.

Every girl and woman at risk of or affected by underage marriage must have equal access to quality services such as education and training, legal and healthcare counseling, including for sexual and reproductive health, housing and other social services.

This requires all government bodies to ensure that their planning, budgeting, decision-making, policy making and monitoring reflect the needs of girls and boys, and that investment in girls’ empowerment is prioritised in all areas and all sectors, the UN official added.

Vietnam’s World Vision National Director Tran Thu Huyen emphasised the role of children in finding solutions for this issue, saying that it is important to listen to children's perspectives on the root causes of underage marriage and involve as well as empower them to participate in finding solutions to prevent and end underage marriage, especially in ethnic minority groups.

Nhan Dan

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