Girls not brides; yet Yes, they are

“I am 20 years old and this is my second baby, my prince.”

Jhumki, was returning to her home carrying her new born son from her maternal house. She smiled with desperation while continuing her story. “I got married when I was 16; I had wanted to study, but my grandmother was old and wanted to see me married soon; it was her last wish she said to me. So I agreed. I married to fulfill my grandmother’s wish before her death. But then I had to kill my wish.”

Jhumki’s innocent eyes stayed on my face with a question. “What about you?” She was surprised to learn that I was nearing my thirties and still had not married. “You are so much elder than me, and still unmarried; didn’t anyone you into marriage? I can’t imagine that you are still allowed to study and work too.” Jhumki’s words were strong, and yet it was filled with remorse and grief.

“I had wanted to become a teacher, but all my dreams were in vain. My parents stopped me from school when I was in grade 6; and see me now; I am mothering two children.”

Child marriage or early marriage is any formal marriage or informal union where one or both of the parties are under 18 years of age. In Nepal, child marriage, or early marriage, is defined as the marriage or union between two people in which one or both parties are younger than twenty years of age. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes the right to ‘free and full’ consent to a marriage, acknowledging that consent cannot be ‘free and full’ when one of the individuals involved is not sufficiently mature to make an informed decision about a life partner. In other words, if a bride or the groom, or both fall under the age stipulated as the marriageable age by the law of the country, that marriage is considered as ‘child marriage’ or ‘early marriage’. Child/early marriage includes love marriage, proposed marriage and also forced marriage.

Three – year old baby girl Goma’s parents are 62 years old Prem Bdr. Saud, and 30 years old Bindhya. Bindhya who is the second wife of Prem Bdr. Saud, got married to him when she was at the age of 19 and he 51, after his first wife’s death. Though the law prohibits such marriages with vast age gaps, they are yet taking place in most parts of Nepal.

I am happy with my husband. He cares for me a lot. I don’t have any problems; I have enough food to eat and nice clothes to wear; I don’t even have to do all the work at home as many other women must do; so I am lucky I would say” expressed Bindhya proudly. She added with a smile, “Ours was an arranged marriage. My husband’s three sons live in Dhangadi. They are older than me, yet they like and respect me, and so I don’t feel uncomfortable. I don’t regret at all.”  After a pause Bindhya continued, “But I will let my daughter study more; I want her to become an educated and well-known person in the society. I want her to be respected by everyone.”

Even though Nepal celebrates Children’s day every year, and programmes such as rallies, campaigns, street dramas, documentaries, short films are organized by the Government, NGOs, child clubs, etc. under diverse slogans to bring awareness among the Nepalese societies, to increase the number of children attending schools, and to mitigate child marriages in Nepal, there is no remarkable change noticed in the numbers of child marriages.

Child marriage has emerged as a serious challenge in Nepal. It is considered as a socio – legal problem. Even in a modernized, technologically controlled era, the child marriages rates seem to be increasing. The reasons behind this are, mal-practices that exist in some communities, lack of awareness on the ill-effects of child marriage, forced marriages by parents before marriageable age due to poverty, and cultural practices, the growing trend of love marriage among children in recent years, falsely hoping to find their destined happiness, and the negative impact created through movies, media and advertisements, on the young generation.

The ancient cultures and traditions of Nepal make people to believe that marrying off young girls before they attain menstrual age makes the girls reach heaven after their death. When a girl leave her home to marry against her parents’ wish, it regarded as a social stigma, and is not accepted back by her own; she is supposed to be in her husband’s house. On the other hand families consider daughter as a burden on the entire family. Beliefs exist that daughters are the properties of the other family – which refers to the family of the groom.

In the world where early marriage is practiced, child marriage takes place primarily among girls, than boys. Not only do these communities undervalue girls, they regard them as the cause for economic hardships. Patriarchal societies possess the desire to control the females in every aspect – from behaviour, education, clothes and until marriage. They always expect the girls to bring honour to the families by adhering to the families’ demands. Hence traditions, poverty, insecurity, and the desire control, leads towards child/early marriage of girls.

Child marriage denies girls their right to make vital decisions about their sexual health and well-being. It forces them out of education and into a life of poor prospects, with an increased risk of violence, abuse, ill health or early death. Each year in the world, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18, which results in 23 girls marrying every minute. In South Asia’s girl population, 46% of the girls become child brides.

Though the laws in Nepal are strong in paper, they are not correctly enforced; thus child marriage rates remain high. Nepal is at third position after Bangladesh and India in South Asia for having high rates in child marriages. The Human Rights Watch Nepal states that the police rarely intervene to prevent child marriages. According to the Population Monograph of Nepal 2014, among the child population aged 10 to 18, 26.3% was already married.

Among the 66 child marriage cases reported during the fiscal year 2016/17, 46 cases (70%) were between young boys and girls, and 23 (15%) were between adult men and girl children. It has also been revealed that 5 (7%) of the cases were of mismatched marriage of young girl, with aged grooms. Out of the said 66 cases of child marriages, 34 (52%) had been arranged by the parents, and the remaining 32 (48%) were the cases of self-marriage.

In order to mitigate this severely expanding issue of child marriage, people should be made aware of its consequences. There are number of harms sustained by young mothers during pregnancy. Mothers, who had married in childhood, face serious health issues, in terms of their reproductive health, during the menstruation, and during child birth.

Significant attempts are being initiated in Nepal to end child marriage. Children too, through their child clubs are becoming active against child marriage. Efforts are being taken to declare a ‘child marriage free zone’ in Nepal, in cooperation with concerned stakeholders. A ‘Regional Plan of Action to end Child Marriage in SAARC countries’ is being implanted (2015 – 2018) by the South Asia Initiative to End Violence against Children (SAIEVAC), which includes Nepal too.

There are large numbers of young girls like Jhumki and Bidhya in Nepal, with different stories about losing their childhood. The young brides usually opt to keep their stories of regrets to themselves, as girls in Nepal are taught to accept what they have received as their fate, and not complain. Thus, the stories of many girl brides of Nepal, will continue to be hidden.

educating a male is educating a person; educating a female is educating the whole family: saving a girl child from early marriage is saving the whole family from potential ill-hazards and negative consequences”

Laxmi Bakhadyo  | Nepal