Child and incestuous marriages among ethnic minority groups have been a headache for local administrators in Nghệ An and Quảng Bình provinces in Vietnam.
Xòng Y Râu, a H’Mông ethnic minority girl, 16, dropped out of school in 2017 to marry, and now cares for her 4-month-old son in a stilt house in Huổi Tụ Commune, Kỳ Sơn District, in the central province of Nghệ An.
“I didn’t know what it feels like to be a wife before I got married. I thought it was simple,” she said.
But she now feels more tired than she ever thought she could be.
In the central province of Quảng Bình, the marriage of a couple from the Rục ethnic minority group in Thượng Hóa Commune, is a typical example of an incestuous marriage.
The husband is the maternal uncle of the wife and they now have three children, according to vietnamnews.vn.
Their eldest child died when she was in first grade while the youngest, whose hands tremble, weighs only 10 kilograms at the age of 4, vietnamnews.vn reported, quoting online newspaper Tiền Phong (Vanguard).
“She cries all the time,” said the wife, adding that her daughter is not getting any bigger.
Data from the Ethnic Minority Committee in Nghệ An Province showed that there were 902 child couples married between 2014 and 2018, some even as young as 12.
Huổi Tụ Commune is said to have 87 child-marriage couples alone, of which 34 were married under the age of 16.
Statistics from Quảng Bình Province revealed that 186 child marriages and seven incestuous marriages took place between 2014 and 2018.
Nguyễn Lương Cường, head of the Dissemination Office under Quảng Bình Province’s Ethnic Minority Committee, said the biggest problem in tackling the issue is backward traditional practices.
The custom of “stealing a wife” among the H’Mông ethnic minority group is blamed as one of the causes for child marriages, said a member of a judicial staff in Tam Hợp Commune, Nghệ An Province, Vì Quang Bảnh.
The custom of “stealing a wife” on the first day of the New Year has become disgusting to many, he said.
Cướp vợ (stealing a wife) is a special H’Mông custom. When a man loves a woman, he must “steal” her on the darkest night and imprison her without food for 2-3 days, and when she accepts his proposal, he will then ask her family for permission.
Lack of awareness among local people is also to blame for the situation, Cường said.
Bảnh said the parents of child couples told him they would rather allow their children to get married early, than to see them left alone and unmarried.
Some parents also said they let their children get married early because they had threatened to commit suicide, Bảnh said.
Trần Xuân Tư, head of Ón Village, Thượng Hóa Commune, Quảng Bình Province, said that a lack of economic and cultural exchanges of the Rục ethnic minority group with other minorities had led to incestuous marriages.
According to Unicef, child marriage is a violation of children’s rights, and has a negative impact on physical growth, health, mental and emotional development, and education opportunities.
It also affects society as a whole, since child marriages reinforce a cycle of poverty and perpetuates gender discrimination, illiteracy and malnutrition, as well as high infant and maternal mortality rates.
Incest could increase inherited diseases, as can advanced maternal age at conception, which increases chromosomal trisomies such as Down’s syndrome, a report by the World Health Organisation said.
Both provinces have taken measures following a government project called “Reducing child marriage and consanguineous marriage in ethnic-minority areas in 2015-25” to fix the situation.
The goal of the project is to reduce the number of child marriages by 2-3 per cent each year, and the number of consanguineous marriages by 4-5 per cent each year. By 2025, this would basically solve the situation.
However, the project has been less effective than expected, said Lô Thanh Nhất, vice chairman of Tương Dương District’s People’s Committee in Nghệ An Province.
Dissemination is still the major solution, he added.
There are no sanctions to deal with violations, so little impact has been made, he said.
Cường, head of the Dissemination Office under Quảng Bình Province’s Ethnic Minority Committee, said the province has already set up a steering committee to implement the project.
Cường suggested that authorised agencies consider solutions to improve the incomes of ethnic minority people.
“I think it is one of the best solutions, because child marriages and incestuous marriages are mainly reported in poor areas,” he said.