Teen marriage casts light on remote rural deprivation

By Wang Xinke Source:Global Times Published: 2016-2-29 21:48:02

The news that two 16-year-olds from a mountainous village in South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region got married has recently been thrust on the center stage of China's online discourse.

On the eighth day of the Chinese lunar calendar, traditionally considered an auspicious day, the teens held their wedding amid frisky sounds of firecrackers at the groom's destitute home located in a river valley 150 kilometers away from the nearest city Nanning.

It was a formal and decent wedding ceremony in rural China. But snapshots of the bride wearing a wedding dress and the groom, who looks much younger than his actual age, present a somewhat disconcerting scene.

Public opinions divide over the couple's marriage. Some say it was destiny that brought them together to establish a family and send congratulations to them. Others claim marriage is a private matter which should not be overexposed, blaming authorities for organizing a working group to criticize and educate the teens' parents.

There are also views that they violated the Marriage Law that stipulates the minimum legal age for marriage is 22 for men and 20 for women and therefore the wedding was not legally valid. And, a number of single men adopted an envious tone because there are an estimated 30 million leftover males in China due to the gender imbalance, especially in rural areas.

But more netizens voice concern that they are too tender and immature to shoulder the responsibilities of a family, which is far tougher than romance or dating.

The underage couple getting hitched sketches the contours of China's rural areas, which are embroiled in abject poverty and full of teens lacking proper education. Both the groom and the bride dropped out of junior middle school, which they claim is not a big deal but a very common phenomenon in local villages. According to the bride, half of her classmates have dropped out of school to work at construction sites in Nanning or factories in Dongguan, South China's Guangdong Province. For her, there seems to be only two choices: to be a wife or a factory girl. It is tragic that receiving education is not an option for her though she used to come in third in class.

What's more, the bride was a left-behind child, with both her parents migrant workers. As she has grown up with her grandparents and saw her parents just once a year, she inevitably felt lonely and often went to stay in her boyfriend's home after they met.

The issue of left-behind children has increasingly become projected and intractable across Chinese society in recent years. Most of them fail to enjoy appropriate guidance and education from their parents, let alone emotional love and care. It is highly possible that they might pass down this lifestyle for a couple of future generations.

In the girl's eyes, the groom protects and puts up with her at any time and gives her the best he could ever offer. "Perhaps love is like a resting place; a shelter from the storm. It exists to give you comfort. It is there to keep you warm." Maybe the lyrics by John Denver show her current mind-set.

But it unnerves people to imagine how they will handle their marital life which will be beset by various contradictions despite their claim that they believe they can endure hardships together. 

Wang Xinke, a Beijing-based freelance writer

Posted in: Letters

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