Girls as brides: How child marriage is damaging the future of Musahar minority

Girls as young as 10 or 11 are forced into marriages with older males in the Musahar group. This robs them of their youth, education, and the freedom to choose how they want to live their lives.

Representational image

Umesh Kumar Gupta

  • Read Time 3 min.

Musahars account for 0.76 percent (234,490) of total population in Nepal, according to the 2011 census record. In Nepal, the Musahars, an ethnic group with their own tradition and culture, are primarily found in Jhapa, Morang, Sunsari, Saptari, Siraha, Dhanusha, Sarlahi, Rautahat and Bara districts. 

Musahars primarily originated in India. They were brought to Nepal by wealthy landowners for domestic and agricultural labor.

Child marriage has been a major problem for the Musahar community, one of the most socially and economically oppressed groups for many years. This strongly rooted behavior is frequently influenced by an array of elements, such as poverty, illiteracy, gender inequity, and social norms. Many families in the Musahar neighborhood view child marriage as a societal norm, repeating the cycle from one generation to the next. It has terrible effects on young girls’ lives. 

Girls as young as 10 or 11 are forced into marriages in the Musahar group, frequently with older males. These girls’ early entry into adulthood robs them of their youth, education, and the freedom to choose how they want to live their lives. 

Child marriage has serious repercussions for the lives of young girls. We can end the cycle of child marriage and open the door to a better future by increasing awareness, encouraging education, questioning cultural conventions, and empowering young girls. It is time for us to band together and work to create a society where every child, despite their circumstances, can flourish and reach their full potential. 

According to a 2020 survey, 70.1 percent child marriage is prevailing in Madhesh Province. Child marriage percentage is higher among Mushahar communities than others. Within the Mushahar community, child marriage has wide-ranging and complex effects. It primarily deprives young females of their education. Child brides frequently withdraw from school, depriving them of the chance to learn new things, develop new abilities, and expand their horizons. The lack of access to school prolongs the cycle of poverty and reduces the chances for these young girls to break out from the pattern of exclusion. Additionally, these girls’ physical and emotional health is at risk due to underage marriage. 

Child marriage has a strong physical, intellectual, psychological, and emotional impacts, cutting off educational opportunities and chances of personal growth for both girls and boys. But in Mushahar communities the girls suffer more than the boys. They are forced into adult tasks, such as delivery and early pregnancies, for which their bodies are unprepared. Early pregnancy carries serious health hazards, such as greater rates of mother and newborn mortality and labor problems. These young females struggle with emotional and psychological issues like fear, hopelessness, and a lack of independence.

Besides, young girls’ early marriages also contribute to the cycle of poverty in their communities. The community’s overall development is hampered by its inability to participate in the workforce or pursue economic possibilities. Progress is hampered and social inequities are exacerbated by the loss of potential and underutilization of human resources. 

The core causes of child marriage within the Mushahar community, such as poverty and gender inequity, must be addressed to bring about long-lasting reforms. Programs and efforts that support women’s rights and economic development can alter societal perceptions and remove obstacles that support this destructive behavior. To combat the social acceptance of child marriage and destroy the systems that support it, government agencies, NGOs, community leaders, and people must collaborate. This involves advocating gender equality, bringing attention to the detrimental effects of child marriage, and empowering young girls via education. To free ourselves from the shackles of child marriage, education is essential. We can enable young girls to make wise decisions about their life by putting money into high-quality education, ensuring that they attend class, and offering scholarships and programs that help them improve their skills. 

In addition, community leaders and other key players need to promote girls’ education and wait until they are of legal age before getting married to fight cultural norms that support child marriage.

The provincial government has adopted 10 years’ Provincial strategic plan on reduction of child marriage. Based on that strategic plan, the Madhesh Province Government brought policy and programs for upcoming year focusing on reduction of child marriage, school dropout and dowry systems. The strategic plan as well as the policy and program of the upcoming year of provincial government has focused on the program to make children engaged in educational activities. The eradication of the dowry system is in focus. Similarly, the life skill as well as skill development initiatives are also focused to target the drop out children for their better life by engaging in income generation activities.

More interventions like these are required to end child marriage in marginalized communities like Musahar. 

Umesh Kumar Gupta is an MPhil scholar of Development Studies in Kathmandu University, School of Education.