Rural Underage Marriage Remains a Problem: Research

Students play during a break time at the Angkomnob Primary School in Bati district, Takeo province, Cambodia on Sept. 14, 2023. Photo by Van Pov/Xinhua

PHNOM PENH – The rate of young women under 18 who get married remains high, leading to a host of health and social problems, researchers say.

Plan International Cambodia and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs conducted research in 2023 in nine provinces including, Mondulkiri, Ratanakiri, Prey Veng, Kampot and Battambang. 

The northeastern Ratanakiri recorded the highest rate of women marrying at a young age. The research showed that 37.3% of young women get married under 18 years old in the province. 

The rate was16.7% in Preah Vihear, 14.7% in Stung Treng, 14% in Kampot Province, 12% in Siem Reap, 11% in Prey Veng, 9.3% in Sihanoukville, 8% in Battambang and 7.8% in Takeo.

Yi Kimthan, deputy country director-program of Plan International Cambodia,​ said that there are many reasons young women get married, such as gender inequality, discrimination, social norms and level of education.

“For example, woman should have a husband because she can rely on her husband and that he plays an important role in the family,” Kimthan said.

One more reason is that parents without a good education let their daughters marry at a young age.

Kimthan said the less-educated girls get pregnant easily because they don’t know how to protect themselves.

“In the Cambodian context, people think of family honor. If she is pregnant, she must marry because their family think about culture, tradition and the credit in the whole family. They believe that a girl should not have a baby before she gets married.” 

Kimthan said education could reduce the number of women who marry young.  Women who study only to primary level are at a higher risk of getting married young than women with a higher education. 

Kimthan said if women get pregnant at a young age, they are prone to sickness.

He said all these problems have an impact on society. Human resources to develop the country will be the first to suffer.

“If she gets pregnant then her baby doesn’t have good health. How can they develop to a good human resource for the country?” he said.

If a mother get anemia, her newborn baby will be affected in ways such as being underweight, while acute malnutrition can lead to stunting and affect development of the child’s brain, leading to mental retardation.

Kimthan said most girls in rural areas marry young age, which means they cannot study much and are unskilled. This makes their daily income low compared to those who are highly educated. 

Marrying at a young age also contributed to rising domestic violence and divorce.

Kimthan said Plan international Cambodia and ministries need to join hands in preparing a national action plan to reduce young marriages​ while empowering girls to receive higher education, obtain skills and focus on reproductive health which involves how to prevent pregnancy at a young age.

“Providing scholarships and other materials allow the girl to continue to study and also to train them to know their rights to make the decisions, make them understand when they should get married and control the decision.” he said. 

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