Child Marriage in Nepal

Child Marriage in Nepal

Child marriage usually refers to a social phenomenon practiced in some societies in Nepal, where a young child (usually a girl below the age of eighteen) is married to an adult man. Nepal is a developing country filled with norms and values. However, some bad practices are still residing here within the nation, some of them include: Deuki Pratha, Untouchability, Gender Discrimination, Ghumto Pratha, Child Labor, Jhumma Pratha, Girls Trafficking, Dowry and dowry-related violence, Gambling, and Child Marriage has always been one of them. Another form of child marriage practice is that the parents of the future bride and groom arrange a future marriage.  In this kind of marriage girls and boys do not meet until they reach their marriageable age.  Child marriage constitutes a gross violation of human rights, leaving physical, psychological, and emotional scars for life. Sexual activity usually begins shortly after marriage, and early pregnancy and childbirth can lead to the death of both the mother and the baby. In addition, girls and women who marry at a young age are more likely to experience domestic violence at the couple's home.

In Nepalese society, men are often considered superior to women.  Although there have had made different laws and policies, the custom is still prevailing in the society.  According to Nepalese law, the minimum age of marriage under Nepali law is 20 years of age, but 37% of Nepalese girls marry before the age of 18 and 10% are married by the age of 15. (source: Boys also often marry young in Nepal, though in lower numbers than girls. UNICEF data indicates that Nepal has the third-highest rate of child marriage in Asia, after Bangladesh and India. 

In ancient and medieval societies, it was common for girls to be betrothed at or even before the age of puberty. Later, there was a decrease in the rates of child marriage across South Asia from 1991 to 2007, but the decrease was observed among young adolescent girls and not girls in their late teens. Child marriage has been illegal in Nepal since 1963 and, after 20 years old both men and women can get married. Nepal has one of the highest legal ages of marriage in the world where arranging a child marriage or marrying a child is punishable by law. Although strong on paper, the laws are not properly enforced and child marriage rates remain high. A UNICEF discussion paper determined that 79.6% of Muslim girls in Nepal, 69.7% of girls living in hilly regions irrespective of religion, and 55.7 percent of girls living in other rural areas, are all married before the age of 15 (source: Girls born into the highest wealth quintile marry approximately years later than the ones from the opposite quintiles.  Child marriage has lasting consequences on girls, from their health (mental and physical), education, and social development perspectives. These consequences last well beyond adolescence. One of the most common causes of death for girls aged 15 to 19 in developing countries was pregnancy and childbirth. Girls are more disproportionately affected by the practice than boys. 

Child Marriage can be highly observed in the Rural and Terai region of Nepal such as Janakpur, Bardibas, Dhanusa, etc. Some of the main factors including poverty, lack of access to education, child labor, social pressures, and harmful practices paves a way for Child Marriage. Cutting across all of these is entrenched gender inequality and damaging social norms that make girls less valued than boys in Nepali society. Gender inequality, social norms, perceived low status of girls, safe healthcare, safety concerns about girls, and control over sexuality are considered to be reasons for the prevalence of child marriages. Child marriage occurs more frequently among girls living in rural areas. Investing in girls, developing their social and economic assets, giving them access to education and health services, and ensuring that they can postpone marriage until they are ready means greater dignity for women to help reduce the rate of Child Marriage in Nepal. 

On the other hand, as soon as the marriage happens, young brides are forced to prove their fertility after marriage and to give birth to children, especially sons. A young girl with minimal or no education, raised to be submissive and subservient, married to an older man, has little ability to negotiate sexual activity.

Child marriage also threatens the lives of offspring. Mothers under the age of 18 years have a 35 to 55% increased risk of delivering pre-term or having a low birth weight baby than a mother who is 19 or 20 years old. In addition, infant mortality rates are 60% higher when the mother is under 18 years old. Infants born to child mothers tend to have weaker immune systems and face a heightened risk of malnutrition (source: Married teenage girls with low levels of education suffer a greater risk of social isolation and domestic violence than more educated women who marry as adults.   Early marriage places young girls in a vulnerable situation without education resulting in women having fewer opportunities to earn an income and financially provide for themselves and their children by being completely dependent on her husband. Domestic and sexual violence from their husbands has lifelong, devastating mental health consequences for young girls because they are at a formative stage of psychological development. High rates of child marriage negatively impact countries' economic development because of early marriages' impact on girls' education and labor market participation. Using Nepal Multi-Indicator Survey data, its researchers estimate that all girls delaying marriage until age 20 and after would increase cash flow among Nepali women in an amount equal to 3.87% of the country's GDP.

Despite the government's promise of reform, too many children are still being married off before 18 in Nepal resulting in their futures being stolen. Some of the effects of a child's marriage are: 
  • Girls who get married at an early age are often more susceptible to the health hazards associated with early sexual initiation and childbearing, including HIV and obstetric fistula,
  • Young girls who lack status, power, and maturity are often subjected to domestic violence, sexual abuse, and social isolation, 
  • Early marriage almost always deprives girls of their education or meaningful work, which contributes to persistent poverty, 
  • Child Marriage perpetuates an unrelenting cycle of gender inequality, sickness, and poverty, 
  • Getting the girls married at an early age when they are not physically mature, leads to the highest rates of maternal and child mortality. 

Some of the practices that can be adopted to overcome Child Marriage in Nepal are: 
  • Strengthening the National Legal and Political Framework for Child Marriage and Marriage registration, 
  • Empowering Adolescent Girls,  
  • Involvement of Religious Leaders as well as Men and Boys, 
  • Supporting the ongoing revision of curriculum on Comprehensive Sexuality Education, 
  • Mobilizing communities to promote public expressions of commitment, and declare child marriage-free VDCs,
  • Strengthening adolescent-friendly health services.
Child Marriages are considered as one of the social menaces that cannot be curbed easily without the support of society. Many times the parents of the girl child forcibly marry their daughters to some elder man so that that person can provide financial support to the girl’s family which may lead their financial condition to turn better, but we must aware more of these people and help them develop a clear mindset where a young girl can get an education and be independent further.  It can also be concluded from the above discussion that in early marriages, the girl child’s reproductive and sexual health is affected the most. 

Prepared by: Swikriti Parajuli

I’m a student and I believe in learning and sharing. Besides community development, I’m passionate about arts, music, and sports. Being a teenager myself, and with all the beautiful opportunities I have, I want to aware more people and hope every girl can achieve their dreams without being forced to get married. 

ICA Nepal is an experienced team dedicated to working in the field of human capacity building, and community development through advanced methods. It pursues to recognize people’s initiation, creativity, and enthusiasm in bringing sustainable development by considering existing cultural dynamics and pluralities. It is committed to creating an environment, in which the opportunity to participate and the construction of sustainable change and development is foremost.



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