For most Nepalis marriage is an ultimate goal of their lives. But the ideals that actually guide marriage in Nepal are rather uninspiring. Marriage is considered a reforming center. Marriage is arranged for children so that they don’t take the “wrong path”, here the wrong path being not indulging in affairs at their adolescent age. And this applies more to girls than boys. So many marriages are conducted while the parties in marriage are still too young.
Child marriage is more rampant in Nepal’s Tarai, where family size tends to be big since parents give births to many children until they have a son. So they think marrying a girl off at a young age lifts the burden of the family. In many parts of Tarai, daughters are considered as the family debts whereas sons are considered as family assets.
The dowry system has established this notion. A daughter, when married, has to be sent with the asked amount of gifts and cash whereas a son, when married, brings his bride along with the asked amount of gifts and cash.
According to “The Nepal Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey” (MICS) carried out in 2019 by Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) in collaboration with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), as part of the Global MICS Program, 38.4 percent of women in Nepal between the ages of 20-49, are reported to have got married before the age 18. This is happening at a time when the government of Nepal has committed to end the child marriage by 2030.
There are legal provisions to prohibit child marriage but it has not stopped. According to Nepal Police, most cases of child marriage go unreported as they hide their real age and cases are reported often when the issues are related to inter-caste marriage or violence related to dowry.
Such obnoxious practice leads children in marriage, especially girls, to become victims of violence. They suffer violence including rape and it often forces them out of school and into premature parenthood. Then the girl child is forced to have a son and which again leads to several births which, in turn, affect the health of both mother and children. If the girl isn’t able to give birth to a son she is persecuted by her own family members and sometimes abandoned. She isn’t able to speak up for herself fearing that, if she does, both sides of her family will abandon her. Since government help and protection and justice remain elusive for them, such victims have nowhere to go and no one to turn to for survival.
If such girls are provided skills training so that they can empower themselves, if the government proposes attractive schemes in education system for girls, child marriage can be minimized. To discourage child marriage, the government could also announce that those involved in child marriage would not be able to access the government facilities. It is equally important to communicate with the families and promote positive behaviors towards girl children.
As a responsible citizen we must speak up against it when we see the cases of child marriage.
I often think about this incident. Parents arranged a marriage of a 14 year old girl studying in grade eight in Rautahat. She did not want to get married at that age. So she asked for help by dropping her problem in the school’s suggestion box. Then the school reported her case to a social worker who quickly intervened and her life was saved.
Let us all keep this in mind all the time: Girls are no brides and mothers.