From the field
In American culture, the normative age for young adults to get married is getting later and later. For many, it is often seen as the pinnacle after other accomplishments: college, career, financial stability. For many members of the local tribes here in Thailand, marriage is not just a commitment reserved for eternal love, or even the strategic blending of two families. Sometimes, it is punishment for immodest behavior, a life sentence to cover up familial shame.
Ae (not her real name), a 14-year-old student who had been with us since the age of 10, moved from her aunt’s house to her mother’s house, which was much further away. We began to see less and less of her, though we still met with her during home visits and Saturday programs. One night, staff bumped into her at a Winter Festival, not knowing that night would be the night to change her life. According to rumor, she went home with a 21-year-old man that night. The gossip mill took over, and to quiet such an embarrassing situation, her family, following tribal custom pushed her into marriage with the man, who was required to honor her family by marrying Ae as soon as possible. They married, and Ae stopped going to school.
It was a month later before we heard this news, at which point, staff at SOLD felt the only thing we could do was to remind Ae she had options. If she ever wanted to leave that situation and go back to school, we would be there to help.
Staff visited her again in June, and to our immense relief, the story had changed. Ae had decided to leave her husband, who had been unkind and unfaithful, and to continue her education. We jumped at the opportunity to give her a second chance.
Since then, she has been attending our programs again and is now attending a new school. It took courage for her to make her own decision about starting her life over. For these at-risk kids, it’s so easy for one misstep to trap them. It takes courage and will power to break free. We can’t counter tribal customs and culture, but we can offer options—and stand by these kids when they reach out and take that chance.