Gender Equity And The Marriage And Family Law Of 1959
The Marriage and Family Law of 1959 was, in many respects, recognition that women, as well as men, played a major role in defeating the French colonialists in 1954. In placing greater emphasis on gender equity, the 1959 Act contained four major provisions. First, for the first time in Vietnamese history, arranged marriages were abolished, and both men and women were granted the freedom to make their own decisions. Second, polygamy was declared illegal, and monogamy was adopted as the official form of Vietnamese marriage. Third, equality between men and women was to be practiced both in the home and in society in general. Fourth, the basic rights of women and children, such as freedom from abuse and oppression in the home, were to be protected.
Of the four provisions, however, the first two proved most successful. That is, by 1962 the proportion of arranged marriages fell in North Vietnam from more than 60 percent to less than 20 percent of all marriages. Today, the rate is near zero. A similar pattern emerged regarding polygamy. Except in a few rural areas where it may be difficult to apply the law, it is virtually nonexistent (Good-kind 1995).
The most difficult provisions to implement, however, were the latter two (Thanh-Dam Truong 1996). Both gender equity and the protection of children within families proved ongoing challenges for Vietnamese policy makers.
Although the Marriage and Family Law of 1959 focused primarily on the issue of gender equity, there was no mention of age requirements for marriage, nor was there any discussion of policies regarding cohabitation, rights and obligations of married partners, parental responsibilities, or divorce procedures. But new social forces were afoot over the next twenty-seven years that helped shape an entirely new set of marriage and family laws. By 1986 the Vietnamese population was young, growing, and reproducing rapidly. Industrialization was pulling younger villagers toward cities and away from their extended families. Concerns over rising divorce rates in other developing Asian countries, and demands among teenagers for greater independence, drove Vietnamese policy makers toward major reforms of marriage laws in the mid-1980s.