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Wed, Aug 04, 2010
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She feels guilty she can't give daughter 'proper family'
by Charlene Tan, Jolin Ng

PREGNANT? Get married.

That's a quick fix for some teens who find themselves pregnant.

But going by official statistics, teen marriages are two to three times more likely to end in divorce than marriages between people 25 years of age and older.

Take 21-year-old Nabilla Hashim.

Her family jumped into the marriage preparations when she became pregnant at 17. She said: "My family decided everything before I knew it.

"My parents are very traditional and they didn't want people to know that their daughter was unmarried and pregnant."

Ms Nabilla obeyed her parents' wishes and married her boyfriend before she delivered. She then lived with her husband's parents.

After a year as a full-time mother, Ms Nabilla found a job because she felt guilty about depending on her in-laws.

Her husband, five years older, had just completed his national service. He tended to job-hop and preferred to go out with his friends, paying little attention to his family.

After 11/2 years, Ms Nabilla could not tolerate her spouse's behaviour any longer and filed for divorce.

She said: "We fought a lot about stupid things like money, our daughter, his friends, but mostly about money."

Her parents supported her decision and chipped in to help MsNabilla look after little Nana, as her daughter is affectionately called.

"I am grateful that she still has the love of her grandparents who really dote on her, and she has someone to love her aside from me," said Ms Nabilla.

When the happily-ever-after ends, children often end up hurt though they may not understand why.
Her eyes wide, Nana, clambered up and down the chairs, running around the small café near their home.

Picture of Daddy

Said Ms Nabilla with a tinge of regret: "She thinks it is wrong to talk about her dad. He disappeared after the divorce was finalised. Initially, I told her he does not live with us anymore."

She described a recent incident when Nana brought home a picture that she had drawn of her dad on one side of the art paper.

At first, Ms Nabilla joked to Nana about not knowing how to draw. "Wait," Nana said and turned over the paper. On the other side, she had drawn Ms Nabilla and had her teacher write for her.

"This is Daddy. This is Mummy. Mummy and Daddy don't live together anymore."

Ms Nabilla plans to talk to Nana about her father when the girl is older, hoping that for now, the divorce does not affect the little girl irreparably.

"My hope for the future is to get a house of our own one day," she said.

"I want to give her everything, like visiting Disneyland - things I didn't have when I was growing up.

"It comes from a kind of guilt, that I can't give her a so-called proper family."

Take also the case of 21-year-old Kiara Quek, for whom marriage seemed the only way out despite her parents' objection.

In 2007, she found that she was late by two months. But she dismissed it as stress from her studies. The last thing on her mind was that she was pregnant.

But a store-bought pregnancy test kit proved otherwise.

For Ms Quek, an only child who grew up in a protective home, the test result led to tensions.

"It was a very difficult time for me because my parents were very upset with me," she said.

"However, my boyfriend has always liked kids and he told me he would take responsibility. He said he wanted to get married and he loves me, so I thought, why not?"

Despite the ensuing hostility Ms Quek faced at home, she kept the baby and moved in with her boyfriend, Mr Tyron Seow.

Shortly after giving birth to her son Xander in May 2008, Ms Quek and Mr Seow tied the knot in November. Both were then 19.

The couple are still married and now live with Mr Seow's parents. Ms Quek works as a front desk service staff at a bank while Mr Seow is a credit card salesman also at a bank.

Back in the 60s, teen marriages were the norm, said Professor Gavin Jones, head of the research cluster on Changing Families in Asia at the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

But today, teen marriages are the exception, he said.

A girl aged between 15 and 19 is one-third less likely to get married compared to 20 years ago.

The decline of early marriages in recent decades mirrors the decline in marriage rates.

Why is the trend problematic when marriages between 19-year-olds or even younger couples were routine back then?

According to Professor Jones, this is because these marriages have a higher chance of breaking up.
Divorce rates are up in Singapore and sociologists like Professor Jones worry that this trend could in turn create the impression that divorce is becoming more acceptable.

"People may see divorce as a way out of a marriage that is not working whereas 50 years ago, people stuck together for better or worse," he said.

In her study of Malay teen marriages, Dr Noor Aisha Abdul Rahman, a professor from the division of Malay Studies at NUS, said that most underage marriages were a response to teenage pregnancies.

Just as teen marriages are problematic, one prompted by an unplanned pregnancy may have an even weaker foundation for saying "I do", he said.

Madam Zaleha Ahmad, centre director of the Inspirasi hub for marriage preparation and enrichment at the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP), said: "Pregnancy should not be a reason for marriage.

"If a couple gets married before they are ready, it will create more problems. In the long run, the effect of a divorce is greater on the child and the situation becomes messier."

Singapore is still a largely conservative society where "face" matters.

At times, like in Ms Nabilla's case, it may be the parents who urge their daughters or sons to get married to protect the family reputation, said social worker Ms Azma Abu Basari from the Inspirasi hub at the Young Women Muslim Association (Persatuan Permudi Islam Singapura- PPIS).


The Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports makes it mandatory for all minors under 18 who register for marriage to undergo pre-marital counselling and marriage workshops. Likewise at AMP and PPIS.

During the programme, issues such as readiness for marriage, parenting tips, communication skills, handling the relationship with in-laws and budgeting are discussed.

Madam Zaleha said: "Many young girls see marriage as a happy thing, what we call the "happily-ever-after" syndrome.

"They often fail to see the real challenges of (raising a child), bills to handle, their emotions as well as their spouse's needs and emotions."

Social workers like Madam Zaleha and Ms Azma try to help young couples understand that marriage is serious business.

Said Ms Azmar: "Although we do our best to help young couples to understand the responsibilities of a marriage, some couples come to the counselling sessions with their minds made up to marry."

One Third of teen marriages end within 5 to 9 years

TEENAGE marriages are two to three times more likely to end in divorce than marriages between those aged 25 years and older.

Some 34 per cent of those who married before the age of 20 split up within five to nine years, according to calculations based on 2002 data from the Department of Statistics.

Nearly 50 per cent divorced within 10 years.

In 2008, the divorce rate for men between 20 and 24 years old was 33.4 per thousand. The divorce rate for women in the same age bracket was 28.9 per thousand.

This rate is about four times higher than the national average divorce rate of 7.5 per thousand married residents.

In Singapore, couples under 18 have to apply for a special marriage licence if they wish to tie the knot. They must also attend a pre-marital counselling programme.

The writers are communication studies graduands of the Nanyang Technological University. The report is based on part of their final-year project titled, Teenage, with Child.

<p><i>This article was first published in <a href="">The New Paper</a>.</i></p>

readers' comments
This problem had been arised in Singapore since donkey years ago.We dun need a prof to tell us the statistic...or an avg divorce rate..Early pregnancies are highly due to social and education issues..which happened every where in the world.Ultimately, one problem ease....another arise.Everyone has to be responsible for their foolish act.
Posted by melvin02 on Tue, 3 Aug 2010 at 12:33 PM

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