Opinions divided in Vietnam on lowering of women's marriage age

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Vietnamese experts are divided over the Ministry of Justice's proposal to change the legal marriageable age for women, with critics saying the ministry has yet to study the issue carefully.

A report on VnExpress Tuesday said the ministry is collecting opinions from social agencies and organizations about  amendments it has drafted to the Law on Marriage and Family, one of which is to lower women's marriage age from 18 to 16.

Under the 2000 law, men can only marry at 20.

Several doctors and psychologists have voiced concern over the possible change.

Dr Nguyen Duc Vy, former director of the National Hospital of Obstetrics and Gynecology, said it should not be done since girls' pelvises do not develop fully until at least 22 making their body ready for reproduction. Those who deliver at 16 or 17 require C-sections, he said.

For men, the suitable age to become a father is 25, he said.

"Lowering the marriage age can cause a population boom and increase the risks of obstetrical complications. In my opinion, the age should not be changed."

Pham Phuc Thinh, a counselor at the Ho Chi Minh City-based Nhip cau hanh phuc (Happiness bridge) Psychological Consultancy Center, agreed, pointing out that the change could clash with other laws like those related to the age of consent for sex and employment.

Though people born since the late 1990s are physically more mature thanks to improved nutrition, their brain and psychology are still related to their age, he said.

"If we allow girls to get married at 16, will they be mature and knowledgeable enough to take on the [multiple] roles of wife, mother, and daughter-in-law? Or will the change create more unhappy families, single mothers, and children with single parents, putting a greater burden on society?"

Thinh, who is also an educator, said at 16 girls need to study and receive training to improve their personality, knowledge, and other skills that play an important role in their life.

It seems like the drafters want to return to the time when girls were married off at 13 and boys at 16, he said.

Before considering changes to the marriage age, the ministry needs to study every aspect of 16-year-old people, he said.

The sampling for such a study needs to be large enough and from across regions, and the study findings need to be evaluated by a scientific council, he added.

But there is backing for the change in some quarters. Pham Quoc Anh, chairman of the Vietnam Lawyers Association, last month told the committee drafting the amendments that he supported the proposal since people's physiological needs are changing due to the influence of movies, magazines, and the Internet.

Hoang Tu Anh, director of the non-governmental Centre for Creative Initiatives in Health and Population, called it a "reasonable" move, saying many surveys have found that the age at which Vietnamese youths first have sex now is 18, one year less than in the past.

"What is important is that we need to ... improve sex education and pre-marriage consultancy which are yet to become common in Vietnam," she said.

She dismissed fears that getting married and having children affects girls' schooling.

It depends on the support they get from families and society, she said, pointing out that even without getting married many students drop out of school.

"There are no studies proving that lowering the marriage age will increase the rate of early marriages either," she said, adding that in reality more and more women are marrying late.

When to get married depends on various factors, including one's own willingness, and age is not the deciding factor, she said.

"What is important is not regulating at which age people are allowed to get married, but how to prevent [problems] like unexpected pregnancy, abortion, and STDs "¦ which are at alarming levels in Vietnam." 

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