Early marriage has been part of many cultures for thousands of years. But as Alynna WONG reports one Logan ethnic community is making a stand against the practice.
PANG is a 17-year-old girl. She is not married.
In Hmong culture, she is an exception.
Early marriages were the norm in traditional Hmong culture, where life was based on farming and involved short life spans.
However, even today, it still is a big part of Hmong communities.
Traditionally, Hmong girls marry starting at ages 13 or 14 and often marry older husbands.
These young brides usually drop out of school to fulfil their new roles as wives and homemakers.
While teenage marriage still happens in Hmong society in Australia, Pang Lor and her family are among the increasing number of Hmong people that have shunned this custom since migration.
“Back in Laos, this was the way things were done and even in Australia there are some of my friends who get married and leave high school,” she said.
“It is part of our culture. But since we came here, there are many things that we are changing.”
In Hmong culture, during New Year’s Day, teenage girls and boys throw and catch a ball with each other as a form of courting. During this time, they get to know each other and traditionally, a marriage followed soon after.
Pang said that this was the way her parents met each other.
Did you know…
1. In 2013 the Australian Government made forced/child marriage a criminal offence.
2. Under Australian law, forced/child marriage is considered a form of human trafficking.
3. The changes to Australian law recognise forced/child marriage is ‘never acceptable’ in Australia.
“They met and got married on the same day,” she said.
“In Hmong culture, after throwing the ball, if you decide to get married, the groom has to visit the bride’s house and throw a party.”
“We do not have rings but we tie a white string around our wrists to show that we are married and that was what my parents did,” Pang said.
Thongsin Lor, Pang’s father, says that such quick marriages on New Year’s Day were common back then but he does not expect them now.
“Now you can go to throw balls on New Year’s as friends and you don’t have to get married to them,” he said.
“We still do it as a Hmong tradition but things are also very different. I do not expect my daughters to find a husband that way.”
“For my daughters, I think it is up to them who they want to marry and when,” he said.
Mai says that she is thankful her parents’ have shed this tradition and instead encourage her to work hard at school.
“I am lucky because my parents do not pressure me to find a husband and I can just concentrate on my studies.”
“They encourage my sisters and me to get a good education and they know that if we got married now,we would not get a chance to finish.”
“We know that education is the most important thing to have right now and all of us want to go to university,” she said.
Pang is in no rush to get married and is excited about being able to study business at university after high school.
“I think people will realise that they don’t need to rush into marriage like back in Laos the longer they stay in Australia,” she said.
“There are other people like my family and with more education, the number of young marriages will also go down.”
“We will always keep parts of Hmong culture with us but we are also changing. It’s a new life. That’s why we came to Australia,” she said.
New forced marriage education campaign announced
FEDERAL Justice Minister Michael Keenan has announced a $480,000 anti-forced marriage campaign, that will include a schools-based education campaign.
Mr Keenan said the Australian Government recognised that forced marriage was unacceptable in Australia despite people’s cultural background.
He said under the government plan teachers in both government and independent schools would receive training on how to identify at-risk children at schools.
More than $60,000 has also been allocated for the development of a curriculum on forced marriage to educate students.
Mr Keenan said a further $70,000 had been allocated to the Australian Muslim Women’s Centre for Human Rights to develop an education program aimed at increasing the ability for community organisations to work with young women and families on the issue of forced marriage.
“Forced marriage can be prevented, and with the right tools we can empower young men and women to protect themselves and their friends, and get help when needed,” Mr Keenan said.
He said although forced/child marriage was now illegal in Australia, community-based measures were needed to detect and prevent forced marriage.