ASEAN Perspective

How is marriage unique in ASEAN countries? Is it a Good Sign or The Opposite?

Bill Sean Saragih

Talking about marriage, of course this “word” is one of the steps that is not easy and sacred for us as humans. By basic definition, marriage is a form of legalization process between a man and a woman who want to live together in full with a strong commitment agreement from both parties (Forsyth, 2014) and marriage becomes a medium for the ups and downs of a couple in carrying out daily life ranging from differences in perception, quarrels, fun, and sadness will always be passed together later (GOVE, 2016).

Fast forward to today's era, perceptions and opinions on marriage from several countries are 180 degrees different. Taking a simple example, Japan as a developed country is currently experiencing a marriage crisis in which the role of women there is more directed towards higher education and having a high career (Raymo et al., 2021). Then the next question that is discussed this time is, what about ASEAN countries themselves? Do they have the same case as Japan? Or do they have a different case? What will be the impact in the future?

Analysis of three Sample ASEAN Countries

Three samples of ASEAN countries where the marriage phenomenon is currently shifting. The first to be discussed is Thailand. In the 1900s, the process of marriage (especially early marriage) was not very relevant (Guest & Tan, 1994; Pramualratana et al., 1985). This was due to the underlying rules (especially within the family) that strongly emphasized that women have a high dignity to be loved, protected, and cherished until they find the right partner. In addition, the phenomenon of early marriage and sexual harassment outside of marriage are the least legalized form in the culture, as it has the effect of lowering the social status of the individual and the family (Premchand Dommaraju & Wong, 2023). As a result, the marriage rate each year has been good and the growth of births in Thailand has been optimally controlled. However, due to rapid development, the evolving culture of marriage perception has resulted in a decline. The LGBT phenomenon is the biggest indicator of the changing perception of marriage in Thailand due to the influence of western countries that brought the concept of gender equality rights to Thailand at that time. This led the Thai government and indigenous people to strongly approve, even granting equal human rights laws to LGBT individuals. Eventually, same-sex marriage laws came closer to being legalized and led to rapid growth every year in Thailand (Kamalanuch Aksorngarn, 2024).

Moving on to Singapore, there is an interesting article titled “We Need 50,000 Babies a Year: Marriage and Family in Singapore” by Chris Hudson in 2008, where the gist of the article was the concern of a future marriage crisis in Singapore. Singapore, one of the so-called “Asian Tigers”, experienced tremendous economic growth in the 1960s and with that economic growth came the need for significant population growth. The article explains that the government's policy was to encourage people to marry as soon as possible with the intervention to have as many children as possible without restriction, hence another nickname for Singapore is “womb nationalism.” However, over time, the growth rate of marriage has declined. Data from shows a decline in the marriage rate (roughly) from 6.3% in 2013 to 5.2% in 2020. There is a return to a different perception of marriage among women (especially young ones) today, with the reason being to increase each individual's potential to become better and gain more work experience both at home and abroad in the future (Straughan, 2011).

In Indonesia, the phenomenon of marriage is currently experiencing a negative trend. Data shows that the number of marriages in Indonesia has decreased over the past ten years with a number in 2022 of 1.71 million marriages from 2.29 million in 2012. (Cindy Mutia Annur, 2023). In the past, today's individuals' perceptions of the concept of marriage are different. Marriage in the past had a huge impact on women. Some families thought that with a marriage solution (especially for women), there would be less economic burden on the family (Rahayu, 2019). Thus, there were many early marriages in the past, especially in rural communities. But in fact, the current era of the onslaught of education in Indonesia certainly presents many women who continue to try and work hard to achieve their desired goals on the basis of the fundamentals of equality. The increase in women who have a much greater level of thought or career in the future, gives the perception that by getting married, it slows down the performance of the woman in a career (in terms of having children) (Maria, 2022).

What Happens Next?

The problem of the marriage phenomenon in ASEAN countries is perhaps simple and can be resolved more quickly. However, if left unchecked, what happens is a major shock to human development in each country concerned, especially to the birth rate. A slower birth rate causes the growth rate of the productive age (especially the young) to shrink in the long run and is fatal to the productivity level of the country. Taking the example of Thailand, with the vulnerability of marriage to LGBT roles, what happens is a decrease in the level of opposite-sex marriage to an increase in future births and birth rates. In fact, according to World Bank data, Thailand's birth rate per 1000 people will only produce nine children in 2021. Unlike Singapore, their temporary success in persuading people to increase marriage has put the marriage rate back on the right track. The role of the government is one of the factors coupled with the phenomenon of local Singaporeans marrying foreigners. Of course, this is a good thing but on the one hand it is also not bad in the future, considering that if the couple decides to live in the country of their foreign spouse, there will be a loss of native Singaporeans living in their home country (Brenda S.A. Yeoh et al, 2021). Likewise in Indonesia, the role of the government is one of the keys in improving marriage today, especially for young people now, given the demographic bonus in 2045, this is a serious threat to determine who the next generation will be in continuing the country's future performance.


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