“I left school because I was four months pregnant,” says Isabel, a 17-year-old girl who lives in the suburbs of Dili, capital of Timor-Leste (East Timor). Her daughter, Klarisa, is now seven months old and her husband, Joao, is 20 and works as a plumber. The couple married soon after Isabel fell pregnant.
In Timor-Leste, girls can legally be married at 15, boys at 18.
Almost 19 per cent of girls in Timor-Leste are married by the time they are 18. The fertility rate is one of the highest in the region with women having, on average, six children. Marriage, and child marriage in particular, is often a consequence of pregnancy for girls in Timor-Leste.
Isabel dropped out of high school in Grade 10 because she “felt embarrassed” and because it’s a violation of school rules to be pregnant and enrolled as a student.
Girls and boys in Timor-Leste have limited access to family planning services, which are only available to married couples, and little knowledge of sexual education.
“Young people don’t know how to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy,” says Isabel.
Child marriage is a plague in Southeast Asia, deeply rooted in poverty, gender inequality and traditional practices. May, Nuan and Isabel have to live with the consequences, forced to drop out of school and risk their lives.
“I still want to enjoy my life and study like my other friends,” says Isabel, “but I can’t because I am a mother and have to stay at home to look after my baby.”
Plan International is a global children’s development organisation with programmes in 50 countries around the world promoting children’s rights. To find out more about Plan’s work on child marriage in Asia, click this link and follow them on Twitter: @PlanAsia
In the time it has taken to read this article 18 girls under the age of 18 have been married
Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18
That is 23 girls every minute
Nearly 1 every 3 seconds
Find out more about Plan Asia's work on child marriage.