Hatyai is a city in the very south of Thailand. Around 150,000 people live in this city, which is known for its Buddha statues, shopping, markets and parks. Chinese, Thais and Malays live in the area, which makes it an ethically diverse region - but also leads to conflicts.For several decades, there has been a separatist insurgency in the southern provinces that has claimed thousands of lives and injured many more. Children are particularly affected by the consequences of this conflict and the tradition of child marriage prevalent in the region.
Since 1988, SOS Children’s Villages has been supporting children, young people and families and advocating for their rights in Hatyai.
Thailand records a high number of child marriages. In fact, 23% of women aged 20-24 were married for the first time before the age of 18. Child marriage is a violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The emotional and physical harm a child suffers from a forced marriage is profound.
Specifically in Songhkla, where Hatyai is located, 18% of women were married off as children. Child marriages are widespread due to gender inequality and the belief that girls are inferior to boys. The national goal to end child marriage by 2030 requires a strong push from the government.
Southern Thailand, where Hatyai is located, has been plagued by violence since the beginning of the millennium. The conflict is an ethnic and religious separatist insurgency between Malays and Thais, involving drug cartels and oil smuggling networks. It stems from the complex historical relationship between a Buddhist nation and its predominantly Muslim southern provinces. Since the conflict began, some 6,000 people have died and 11,000 more have been injured, with 90% of the victims being civilians. There have been many attempts at reconciliation, but so far they have failed. The conflict, which is one of the most intense in South Asia, is particularly devastating for children, who are even more vulnerable in these volatile living conditions.