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Teen marriages raise concern over left-behind children in China

Zhang Jiale (left) and Wu Mingmin (right) Photo: Weibo

Photos of Chinese baby-faced youngsters holding a traditional wedding ceremony went viral on China’s largest social media, Sina Weibo, on February 23, igniting concerns about teen marriages.

The couple in the photo turned out to be only 16 years old, coming from a poor county of south China’s Guangxi province.

They are both too young to have a legal marriage in China where the legal marriage age for a man is 22 and a woman 20.

The boy, Zhang Jiale, and the girl, Wu Mingmin, have both quit their high school study and started to work outside the county, saying they did not regret it and that their marriage was based on true love.

Lonely childhood

An in-depth coverage by Beijing News on Tuesday, however, showed that getting married at such an early age is not an unusual thing in the county named Mashan.  

Wei Xuan, a high school student in Mashan county, gave birth to a baby on February 26. Not even realizing that she was pregnant, she had been eating digestion pills for 7 months until her migrant parents came back home from city. They had no choice but to agree to their daughter marrying her 19-year-old boyfriend and quit her study at the high school.

One thing that Wu and Wei share in common is that they are both left-behind children whose parents went to work in big cities.

“I grew up with my grandparents. I feel like I was a weed in the mountain. I only saw my parents once a year,” Wu said.

Many boys and girls like Wu, Zhang, and Wei in Mashan share the same tendency - quitting their study at an early age, getting married after having a baby, and feeling confused and worried about their future, the report said.

According to the 2014 economic and social development statistics report of Mashan county, the total enrollment at primary and middle schools in the county was 14,112 students, out of which only 11,843 students graduated and 2,269 dropped out.  

According to an official at the education office of Mashan county, the government has been trying to control the dropout rate and guarantee students education for a long time. An official document provided to the reporter showed that the tuition in the county is free, and students pay voluntarily for their study materials. A 650 yuan (about $99) subsidy is also provided to students from poor families.

“Finding work outside and accidental pregnancy are the biggest barriers to controlling the dropout rate,” said Huang Hanshi, director of the education bureau of Mashan county where the annual average per capita income was less than 6,058 yuan (about $925) in 2014.

‘Sex is normal’

One reason for so many child-marriages is that many juveniles in the county consider having sex as normal.    

In Zhang’s middle school class, 30 out of 50 students had a lover. For them, sex is not a novelty.

“It’s not that serious as long as the two like each other,” Tang Yan, who got pregnant at 15, said.

“The left-behind children have casual attitudes toward sex, which is the cause of accidental pregnancies, and for which they have to drop out and get married,” noted an official at the education office of Mashan county.

“Early marriage” in China was ubiquitous in 1960s. In 1980s, more and more youngsters were encouraged to get married late and have babies late.

“Early marriage” became popular in Mashan county in recent years as ratio of men rose and more men began to worry that they couldn't find a spouse later.

“If a man does not get married by 20, he would be called an ‘old guy’. There are not enough girls, and if you don’t hurry up to find a wife, good girls would be picked by others,” according to local people.

The news caused a sensation on China’s news websites with some people showing their concerns over China’s education system while some mocking the gender imbalance caused by the one-child policy.

“Only depending on education at school would not work. Even a man with a doctor’s degree is nothing but an employee. The important thing is to master a skill,” said @江南水乡.

“It is true that good girls would be picked by others if you leave it too late,” commented @杰克大叔.

“If you do not get married early, maybe you would never have a marriage,” said @不能没有你.

Last year, China ended its 30-year-long one-child policy and allowed all couples in China to have a second child.

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