In 2013, I led a team of researchers from Mindanao State University–General Santos City to conduct a study on early marriage practices among two indigenous peoples (IPs) in the South Cotabato-Sultan Kudarat-Sarangani-General Santos (Soccsksargen) area and the impact of these practices on the socioeconomic, emotional and overall wellbeing of the women in these groups. Three research teams visited two IP communities in this area—the Blaan of Sarangani and the T'boli of South Cotabato. One team went to the municipality of Lake Sebu, and another team visited the municipality of T'boli, both in South Cotabato province. The third team went to the mountainous barangay of Datal Tampal, in the municipality of Malungon, Sarangani province.
Save the Children–South Central Mindanao Office (SCMO) commissioned this research to get evidence-based information for designing interventions addressing the concerns and issues related to the practice of early or child marriage among indigenous peoples. The study used a mixed-method of both quantitative and qualitative approaches in gathering data, consisting of a one-shot survey (quantitative) and key informant interviews and community focus group discussions for the qualitative part of the study. Earlier, Save the Children-SCMO had gathered anecdotal reports of these practices in several indigenous communities in their area of coverage.
The human rights perspective of girls and boys was used as the study's main conceptual and analytical anchor. From this perspective, an individual's right to marriage and to found a family is considered a basic human right, protected by both national and international conventions. Among the key international conventions protecting this right and stipulating the appropriate age of marriage among individuals are the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) (Sections 1 and 2, Article 16) and the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), specifically Article 16.2.
However, this right is based on the requirement of the "free and full consent of the intending parties," as stipulated in Article 16, Sections 1 and 2 of the UDHR, and in Article 16.2 of the CEDAW. Since both conventions follow the definition of the child as anyone below 18 years old, those who contract marriage below this age are still children. In this sense, the "free and full" consent of the parties in this type of marriage can be dubious as they are still considered immature, and usually under the influence of the decisions made by their parents or older relatives.
Our research team found out that many of the T'boli and Blaan women who contracted early marriage (at ages 10, 12, 15, and 16) were not able to finish their basic education (elementary and high school). When they went back to school after being married, they were ridiculed and bullied by their classmates. They also had to deal with various sociopsychological factors that are part and parcel of married life, like having to deal with interfering in-laws, earning a living for their family, and nurturing children, when they themselves were still children. One case stood out as among the most worrisome situation a child bride can get herself into. One team documented the case of a young woman at 16, who already had three children—her parents arranged for her to marry the local village chief after she reached puberty. In her case, this happened when she was 12, so after her first menstruation, she was sent off to the household of the village chieftain, who at that time already had 12 wives. As part of her tragic story, her two elder siblings had become child brides of the chieftain earlier. This was because her parents had to follow the "tradition" of early marriage of their indigenous community. The reckoning of the relationships of the children of each of these three siblings by the same husband can be a huge challenge for any sociologist to handle, making the drawing of the children's family tree very much a confusing exercise: the children of the three siblings are also siblings themselves (because they were fathered by a common husband) but they are also first-degree cousins since they are children of three siblings.
(To be concluded)
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