Save Nepal’s Young Girls — end child marriage

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child marriage
credit: UNFPA.

Nepal has initiated crucial steps over past few years to upgrade child right, but our nation still exhibits maximum rates of child marriage in the global context. It is estimated that after the devastating earthquake in 2015, early marriage is likely to be increased in vulnerable proportion.

A document released by HRW (Human Right Watch) said, 37% Nepalese girls married before age of 18 and 10%  get married before their fifteenths birthday. With this rate of child marriage,  Nepal is one of the 12 nation selected under UNICEF and UNFPA’s Global agenda to terminate this egregious practice of child right violation. Also as affiliated to, South Asian Initiative to End Violence Against Children (SAIEVAC), Nepal has approved a regional action plan to abolish underage marriage. This action plan will be motioned within 2015-2018. However, post-earthquake circumstance inclined to trigger rate of child marriage ensuing slow progress in the implementation of action plan.

Driving factors

Perception of a girl as the burden of a family often stems the rate of child marriage. It’s also driven by traditional values and parents desire to give authentic guardianship for daughter, avoid illegal pregnancy, and ensure daughter’s sexuality to protect family’s pride. Child marriage often passes unquestioned and also gets moral permission just because it has happened since generations. Despite national condemnation, this illegal practice is thriving in rural parts of central Terai, followed by Siraha, Rauthat, Kapilbastu, Bara, Parsa and Rupandehi. A UNICEF Nepal issued report noted that poverty and illiteracy are the major factors to nourish early marriage in these areas.

However, driver cause of child marriage may differ within various communities.  Particularly, in communities where “bride price” or dowry exists; young bride requires lower payment so poor parents marry their daughter at an early age to avoid higher dowry price. One study shows that girls from prosperous family marry 2 years later than those of deprived origin. Marrying daughter at very early age can be viewed as an opportunity to avoid economic hardship and handover ‘burden’ to bridegroom’s family. In marginalize society not only the family but also girl herself believes that marriage will secure her and family’s future.  Similarly, during a transitional period, such as conflict or post-disaster phenomena, when deprived families encounter greater hardship, they view marrying daughter as coping strategy to face crises.  And if we behold the history of ancient Nepal, from the royal family to ordinary one, the marriage of a daughter is the easiest mechanism to make a political alliance, settle a conflict or repay debts.

Resulting Effects

Many factors peddled this precarious practice, including traditional values, poverty, and lack of education, easy dowry and weak implementation of legislative codes. Child marriage often makes young girls vulnerable resulting physical insecurity, limited career opportunity, and place girl at increased risk of domestic violence and physical enslavement. The most significant and obvious consequence of child marriage is, of course, early pregnancy. Early pregnancy, in turn, perpetuates increasing maternal mortality and infant mortality rate.  Girls married before 18 usually beget child before they are physically prepared.Each year in developing countries, 13.7% girls’ aged 15-19 die during pregnancy and infant death rate is also 50% higher from mothers under 2o years.

Young brides are neither physically nor mentally prepared to play the role of wife or mother. They are prone to be deprived of their fundamental right to health, education and withhold personal freedom at an early age.  With least access to academic perfection and career prospect, the girl and her future family are more likely to face poverty. In this regard poverty is both cause and consequence of child marriage.

Sustainable solutions

At first sight, ending child marriage calls for societal change across all sectors and at multiple levels. It requires us to identify parental drivers behind child marriage and carry out action plans accordingly. Though the practice of child marriage is metaphysically grounded in some societies and culture, neither culture nor society remains consistent, so there is hope for change. Although law regard marriage before 18 years is a fundamental violation of human right, it’s still prevalent. So child marriage in Nepal cannot be tackled from a legal approach, instead of changing traditional norms and cultures might yield positive outcomes.

Secondly, this complicated question of child marriage has simple theoretical answer “Education”. Girls are more likely to control their own life and affect societal reformation in their communities when they have access to higher levels of education. Many studies by UNICEF has shown that early marriage is highly practiced in those communities where education is not feasible or ignored. Educating both parents and children would motivate girls to stand against forced marriage and replace ‘old knowledge’ of parents by implanting daughter-friendly ideologies in their mind. Child marriage is a product of false ideology peddled by tradition and only education could change this ideology. In some rigid communities where tradition is preferred over education, mobilizing religious leaders or priest in awareness campaign could be better option to bring sustainable change in the community.

In Nepalese society, women have often kept aside in decision-making process and are forbidden to speak on public issues. Adopting empowerment approach can bring positive outcomes for women and her society by encouraging her to become an agent of change.  It is necessary that women are empowered to advocate for themselves and forge their own future. In the same manner, academic enrollment is another way to prevent child marriage.  Many studies have proven that the longer girls enroll in the academic field, the less she is likely to fall victim to an early marriage. As a community based approach, sponsoring a deprived child for education in rural areas can also minimize the cycle of early marriage.  Till now child marriage withstands on the base of societal support, so reinforcing inclusive social change would help to promote conditions in which education and awareness can out-throw the culture of child marriage and ensure child right.

Biranchi Poudyal is a freelance writer, Researcher. He is pursuing Master’s degree in International Relations and Diplomacy at the Tribhuvan University.