Thailand (MNN) — In the hills of Thailand, the Hmong people live in poverty, making an average of U.S. $1.60 per day. The practice of forced marriage provides bride money, a welcome relief to those struggling as subsistence farmers or day laborers. A center assisted by Compassion International provides hope in the form of education for young girls who would otherwise be married off.
"I worry about the girls in the project," says Vadsana, director of the Kao Kor Grace Child Development Center in a Hmong community. "They feel they have no choice. Many of our girls don't think they can reject the man their parents have chosen for them. It would be disrespectful."
Workers at the center have found that education is a powerful ally in preventing forced teen marriages. Hmong culture deemed the practice necessary generations ago when the average lifespan of Hmong people was between 30 and 40 years. Girls as young as 13 are forced into marriage, often to older men. When the center opened in 1990, center workers had to prove to the Hmong people that they were trying to help families find a way out of poverty.
Hmong culture allowed only boys to attend school, so the community resisted an educational opportunity for their girls. By providing Hmong children in the village with medical care and after-school tutoring, Compassion-assisted workers gradually persuaded the Hmong people to allow both boys and girls to attend the center. One young girl testifies that if not for Compassion's intervention, she would have been married off.
"I saw a lot of my friends get married and have many children when they were still young, but they divorced or had a family crisis after their short marriage" said Pacharee, a 17-year-old girl whose family was won over by the center's offer of hope for her future. " So I thank God that He chose me to join the center because He gave me wisdom to do the right thing, to study further, which has resulted in a brighter future."
Pacharee is at the top of her class, among hundreds of girls who have passed through the center's doors. One of 10 children in a desperately-poor family, she says that her parents wanted to marry her off to give her what they believed to be a better life. Pacharee says she wants to get married and have children some day, but for now she would rather worry about studying for tests and finishing her homework. Pacharee dreams of becoming a pharmacist. If you'd like to help provide a better future for a child in Thailand, learn about child sponsorship by clicking here.