KATHMANDU — In Nepal, over one third of girls under the age of 18 are married. In some isolated communities, the child marriage rate for girls is as high as 87 percent. The numbers are high, but the narrative of child marriage in the Himalayan nation is consistent as it tells the story of poverty and lost futures.
In 2014, the Nepalese government pledged to end child marriage by 2020. In 2016, they pushed back the date to 2030. As of now in 2017, there still has yet to be any real sign of action or plan implemented to reach the goal of ending child marriage.
Why does ending child marriage in Nepal — or rather the lack of ending it — matter?
It’s important because child marriages are not only dangerous for girls and their babies, but they also enable the cycle of poverty and hinder the nation’s development.
When children marry before the legal age of 20, they drop out of school and begin leading a domestic life they are physically and mentally not mature enough for. While boys will drop out to find work and a way to support their new family, girls drop out to do housework and to raise their babies. In both scenarios, the children’s lack of education, maturity and skills hinder their ability to support themselves and leave them vulnerable to poverty.
Concerning health, teenage girls are largely unaware of the fatal risks that come with early sexual activity and young pregnancies. World Vision International found that “girls who marry between the ages of 10 and 14 are five time as likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth as women in their early 20s.” Furthermore, infant deaths are an inherent consequence of child marriage: infants born to a mother younger than 18 are 60 percent more likely to die before their first birthday.
The complex forces that drive child marriage in Nepal are both social and economic. Strong traditional, religious and cultural influences are permeated by adults and coerce the youth. Fifty-three percent of males and 67 percent of females reported that they entered into thier child marriage mainly because of parental pressure.
However, recently Nepal has seen an increase of child ‘love’ marriages where kids choose to marry someone themselves. This trend is most popular with young girls, but their reason for marrying doesn’t tend to legitimately involve love. Instead, young girls willingly enter or seek marriage to man who they believe can feed and provide them. Another driving reason is pre-marital pregnancy or simply the fear of pregnancy, for the social consequences of such are unforgiving.
Weather it is a ‘love’ marriage or not, child marriages reflect Nepal’s oppression and devaluation of women and represent a serious human rights violation overall. Child marriage in Nepal is a social, economic and cultural phenomenon that is concentrated in impoverished, rural settings and needs to be systematically addressed.
Children have the right to their education, their health and their childhoods — all of which are threatened or eradicated by child marriage.
Fortunately, there are many realistic ways to end child marriage in Nepal by 2030. To begin, since child marriage is nearly exclusive to those in poverty, alleviating Nepal’s poverty overall will greatly help reduce the practice’s prevalence.
Moreover, the government needs to better enforce the legal marriage age, a feat which begins with encouraging birth and marriage registration. Finally, promoting education and empowering girls will best equip Nepal to be able to shift the traditional attitudes and customs that foster child marriage away and evolve past them.
– Catherine Fredette