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Laos

Child marriage rates
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 15
9%
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 18
35%

* References

* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)

Child marriage rates
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 15
9%
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 18
35%

* References

* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)

What's the child marriage rate? How big of an issue is child marriage?

33% of Lao girls are married before their 18th birthday and 7% are married before the age of 15.

11% of boys in Laos are married before their 18th birthday, which makes Laos the country with the eighth highest prevalence rate of child marriage for boys.

Child marriage is most prevalent in remote rural areas and the provinces of Xaysomboune (where half of women aged 20-24 were married before the age of 18), Huaphanh (46%), Phongsaly and Borikhamxay (42%).

Child marriage is most prevalent among the Hmong Mien (57%), Mon-Khmer (39%) and Chinese-Tibetan (36%) ethnic groups.

According to UNICEF, Laos has the highest proportion of child marriage in the East Asia and Pacific region.

Are there country-specific drivers of child marriage in this country?

Child marriage is driven by gender inequality and the belief that girls are somehow inferior to boys.

In Laos, child marriage is also driven by:

  • Level of education: Girls’ education is often not prioritised as boys traditionally inherit family property whereas girls leave home to marry. As a result, almost 60% of women (age 20-24) with no education were married before the age of 18, compared to 16% who completed secondary education.
  • Poverty: 56% of women in Laos’ poorest households married as children, compared to only 13% living in the richest households. Together with the lack of employment opportunities for young women, child marriage can be used as a means of economic survival and security for families.
  • Traditional harmful practices: The practices of Tshoob nii (“bride theft” or effectively kidnapping a girl bride) and Tshoob zawj (where a woman is forced to marry a man and attempts to convince the parents may include payments) reportedly still occurs among Hmong and Khmu populations. This sees girls as young as 12 being married and sometimes offered as a payment to settle disputes. Geographical isolation contributes to the persistence this practice: 39% of women who were married as children live in rural areas, compared to only 21% in urban areas. Many girls in isolated areas see marriage as their only option.
  • Pre-marital sex: Girls engaging in pre-marital sex are often stigmatised and this sometimes pressures them to marry young.
  • Adolescent pregnancy:18% of Laotian girls had given birth by age 18, with higher rates in remote areas. Starting a family is still considered the “normal” thing to do for many teenagers and often goes hand in hand with marrying.
  • Household labour and exploitation: Girls are mostly seen in their domestic role and as advantageous to a groom’s family as they provide free labour, and her family receives a dowry payment in return.

Trafficking: There are reports of Laotian girls being trafficked into China, where there are forcedly married to Chinese men.

What has this country committed to?

Laos has committed to eliminate child, early and forced marriage by 2030 in line with target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals. Laos reported on the progress and some of the challenges of measuring indicators related to gender and child marriage in its 2018 Voluntary National Review at the High Level Political Forum.

Laos acceded to the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, which sets a minimum age of marriage of 18, and ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1981, which obligates states to ensure free and full consent to marriage.

In 2011 the UN Child Rights Committee recommended that the government consolidate a national system for data collection, analysis, research and strategies to address violence against children. In 2018, the Committee expressed deep concerns about the fact that, although the minimum age for marriage is set at 18, child marriage remains highly prevalent, especially among girls in certain ethnic groups.

Similarly, in 2018, the CEDAW Committee expressed concerns about the persistent prevalence harmful practices such as early marriage despite its prohibition, and the insufficient measures taken to address the root causes of this practice.

In 2017, the UN Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children made a visit to Lao PDR. She highlighted that child and forced marriages are an area of utmost concern and recommended that Lao PDR tackle the impunity for these crimes and develop an integrated national child protection system.

During its 2015 Universal Periodic Review, Laos agreed to examine recommendations to establish legislation which penalises child marriage.

Laos has committed to the ASEAN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women and Violence against Children (2013), which acknowledges the importance of strengthening ASEAN efforts to protect children from all forms of violence, including early marriage.

In 2019, at the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25, Laos committed to end gender-based violence and harmful practices, focusing on early marriage among adolescents through the revised National Action Plan for Prevention and Elimination of VAW 2021-2025 and its implementation through the Essential Service Package.

The Laos is a partner development country of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE).

What is the government doing to address this at the national level?

Laos’ National Social Economic Development Plan (2016-2020) includes a performance indicator related to adolescent pregnancy as a first step towards reducing child marriage. 

In 2015, Laos adopted the National Plan of Action to Prevent and Eliminate Violence against Women and Children (2014-2020) and a Law on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Children. Article 17 defines forced marriage as a form of violence against women and children, and Article 79 notes that people forcing a child under 18 to marry will be imprisoned and fined.

As of end of 2019, Laos was formulating a new National Action Plan for Prevention and Elimination of Violence against Women and Children (2021-2025), which will include an Essential Service Package (ESP). The ESP is a multi-sectoral response plan that clarifies the needs and rights of women and girls subjected to gender-based violence, including child marriage and adolescent pregnancy.

The National Plan of Action for Mothers and Children (2016-2018) included an objective on decreasing child marriage. The plan also included a project on training of trainers at the provincial and district level to disseminate, monitor and support efforts related to child marriage.

Laos has organised campaigns on the topic of early marriage. Namely, in 2016, United Nations agencies and the government launched the 2030 Noi Framework (“Noi” is a ten-year-old girl who represents adolescent girls in Laos). The aim of the campaign is to make the case for the SDGs, increase investments and serve as an entry point for dialogue and awareness about adolescent issues, especially early marriage and pregnancy.

In 2014 the National Commission for Mothers and Children, in collaboration with the Lao Statistics Bureau and UNICEF, conducted a national study on violence against children, including child marriage, as a first step in producing future policy and legislation.

What is the minimum legal framework around marriage?

Under the Family Law 1990 the minimum legal age of marriage is 18 years.

However, individuals may marry at 15 years “in special and necessary cases”.

Source

ASEAN Commission on the Rights of Women and Children, The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women and Elimination of Violence against Children in ASEAN, 2013, http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Women/WG/ASEANdeclarationVaW_violenceagainstchildren.pdf (accessed January 2020).

ECPAT, Global Monitoring status of action against sexual exploitation of children, Lao PDR, 2017, http://www.ecpat.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/A4A-Laos_2017_Final.pdf (accessed January 2020).

Gastón, C. M., et al., Child marriage among boys: a global overview of available data, Vulnerable Children and Youth Studies,14:3,219-228, 2019, https://doi.org/10.1080/17450128.2019.1566584 (accessed January 2020).

Government of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lao People’s Democratic Republic: Voluntary National Review on the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, 2018, https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/19385Lao_Final_VNR_19_June_2018_web.pdf (accessed January 2020).

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Jordana, A. D., Situational Analysis on Child, Early and Forced Marriage in Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia, World Vision, 2017, https://www.wvi.org/end-violence-against-children-east-asia-region/publication/situational-analysis-child-early-and (accessed January 2020).

Lao Ministry of Planning and Investment, Annex 2. Handbook on the Monitoring and Evaluation Framework for the Eighth National Socio-Economic Development Plan, 2016, https://rtm.org.la/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/NSEDP-MEF-Handbook9August2016.pdf (accessed January 2020).

Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Family Law, 1990, https://www.ilo.org/dyn/natlex/natlex4.detail?p_lang=en&p_isn=75493&p_country=LAO&p_count=58 (accessed January 2020).

Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Law on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Children, 2014, http://un-act.org/publication/view/lao-pdrs-law-on-preventing-and-combating-violence-against-women-and-children-2014/ (accessed January 2020).

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UN CEDAW, Concluding observations on the combined eighth and ninth periodic reports of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, CEDAW/C/LAO/CO/8-9, 2018, p. 15, https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CEDAW%2fC%2fLAO%2fCO%2f8-9&Lang=en (accessed January 2020).

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UNICEF, UNICEF Annual Report 2017, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, 2018, https://www.unicef.org/about/annualreport/files/Lao_Peoples_Democratic_Republic_2017_COAR.pdf (accessed January 2020).

United Nations, Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform, [website], 2017, https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg5 (accessed January 2020).

* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)