Child Marriage in Nepal: – India and Nepal are among the five countries that practice child marriage (along with Uganda, Nigeria, and Bangladesh). And these are not isolated cases.
According to UNICEF statistics, 63% of marriages in Nepal are concluded before the bride reaches the age of 18, of which in 40% of cases the bride is younger than 15. Marriages between children of 6-8 years of age also occur – this is 7%. The most common are alliances in southeastern Nepal, among the Maithili and Parbat peoples.
India is responsible for 40% of all child marriages in the world. 48% of brides get married before they reach the age of 18, of which 15% of girls become wives before they reach 13 years of age. The most record region in the number of child marriages in the state of Rajasthan.
The law of both India and Nepal prohibits marriage until the girl is 18 years old. For violation threatens imprisonment from 3 months to 3 years. Nevertheless, many prefer to marry their children before they reach adulthood.
This is especially true for representatives of lower social strata and tribes. By marrying daughters at an early age, parents thereby get rid of excess mouth. In addition, the dowry of a young bride is much less than that of an adult girl.
The groom’s family, in turn, acquires free labor on the farm. And the law here is powerless – it can come into force only if the girl goes to court. And how can this be expected from an uneducated child, besides living somewhere in the wilderness?
What is Child Marriage?
Child marriage, as defined by UNICEF, is an officially concluded marriage or an unofficial union with a person under the age of 18. The US Department of Health and some researchers also include the betrothal of minors and their marriage by a court decision in teenage pregnancy to child marriage.
Moreover, in different cultures and religions, among different peoples and at different times, one can find dissimilar ideas about which marriage should be considered too early and why.
For many centuries, marriages that were earliest in modern times were quite commonplace, allowed by religion, laws, and customs. And now, in certain countries and regions, the minimum age for marriage established by law is less than 18 years.
In others, marriage up to the age of 18 is allowed by the consent of the parents in connection with pregnancy or other special circumstances. Thirdly, cultural traditions and religious institutions may be stronger than official legal norms.
Among the reasons for the conclusion of children’s marriages, one can mention poverty, the customs of bride redemption, and dowry. Local cultural traditions, laws permitting early marriage, religious and social pressure, religious rules, fears of not getting married / not getting married as adults, illiteracy, and the inability to employ women paid work.
Both boys and girls marry at an early age, but there are many more young brides. And most of them are girls from families in difficult socio-economic situations.
History of child marriage in the world
Early in modern ideas, marriage was previously common and generally accepted for many centuries and in most populated places around the world. In Antiquity and in the Middle Ages, girls were most often betrothed at puberty and even earlier.
It was only in the 20th century that these traditions were called into question. When at first a tendency to increase the age of the first marriage began to be observed, and then states began to raise the minimum age for marriage.
In Greece, early marriage and motherhood were also approved, and even adolescent marriage was expected from adolescents. In those days when the average life expectancy ranged from 40 to 45 years, early marriages and early births were quite typical and justified. In the Roman Empire, the minimum age for marriage was 12 years for girls and 14 years for boys.
Legislation of medieval England, largely based on Roman law, also allowed for early marriages, and they usually occurred before the age of 16. In China, during the imperial period of its history, child marriage was also considered the norm.
Most of the religions known in history one way or another set the minimum age for marriage. Christian canon law forbade the girl to marry before reaching puberty.
And the Indian Vedas – another three years after this age. Jewish scholars and rabbis categorically did not approve of marriage earlier than puberty but at the same time made an exception. Girls aged 3 to 12 could be engaged or married by the will of their fathers.
The Islamic marriage rules are sometimes allowed the marriage of girls under the age of 10 years. Because of the laws of sharia in part based on the sayings and deeds of Prophet Muhammad.
The age of marriage in the Muslim religion comes when the people responsible for the girl understand that she has reached puberty. But this is an unprofessional and rather subjective definition of the onset of puberty. And among many Muslims and some Islamic scholars, there are strong beliefs that marrying girls under 13 years old is permissible under Sharia law.
Despite the fact that, by the beginning of the 21st century, the laws of most countries set the total minimum age for marriage to 18 years old. Many countries (and not only developing or religious ones) have exceptions allowing marriage earlier than this age with the consent of the parents and/or by court order.
In some countries, religious marriage is still recognized by the state authorities along with secular or even instead of it, in others – registered civil marriage is required.
History of child marriage in Nepal
Nepal is a small and developing country, landlocked between India and China. The Geographical structure makes it hard for our country, to initiate any infrastructural process.
The underdeveloped country has made its people similar to it. The education system is poor, the corruption being high and laws being not strict. The people in the rural areas are still aware of the facilities which should be given to them at birth.
There are people who have been living like that of 20th-century people and yet the government seem to do nothing about it. These factors are the influencing factor of the people themselves.
If there is a good education system, there will be more awareness thus people will know about things they did not expect or think of. I am focusing on child marriages here.
How many villagers know about the consequences of eloping at an early age or getting married at an early age? Do they know about family planning? Do they know the importance of education?
This is the picture of Kamala aged 15 who had eloped at the age of 12 with her first child. She had eloped because there were rumors about her and then-boyfriend being sexually active. This was not accepted by the family and they were threatened by the people. Thus, they had to elope at an early age without being concerned about the future.
In the context of Nepali society, child marriage is not found in Lichhavikal. Yet in the Middle Ages, the context of child marriage is abundant with kings and nobles. Hindus were terrified when Muslims in India were expanding their empire.
As a result, they started marrying their daughters without menstruation. This practice had a major impact on the Khas Empire and even in the Kathmandu Valley. Also in Hindu society, the desire of a son had become prevalent in child marriage.
In the middle-class families of the state of Khas, daughters were used for sale with the parents of the groom. The Malla kings of Kathmandu valley also used to have child marriages on the basis of religion.
In Nepali society, the practice of child marriage is not limited to Khas Arya. This practice has had a profound impact on Dalit communities in the Terai and the Far West. The practice of child marriage is still strong, especially in the Maithili, Brahmin, and Dalit communities of the Terai.
Children chained to a marriage bond at an age when they are physically and mentally changing. Its effects have been directly observed in adolescents.
Getting married at a young age can lead to sexual abuse, illiteracy, poor health, population growth, etc. Due to superstition and tradition, 40 percent of married girls do not complete school education.
Child marriage is illegal in Nepal since 1963. The current law states that any marriage of a child against their will is said to be illegal. The culprit will be punished through imprisonment and fines which may depend as per the case. The fine can be from Rupees one thousand to ten thousand.
As per the statistics, 37% of girls in Nepal marry before the age of 18 and 10 percent are married by age 15. This happens because of unawareness and strict laws. The legal age as per the rules and regulations of Nepal is 20 years old for girls and 25 years for boys.
As per UNICEF, data shows that Nepal has the third-highest rate of child marriage in Asia, after Bangladesh and India. When interviewing the young bride and people, they claim that the reason behind child marriage in Nepal is because of the low access to education, child labor, social pressures, and harmful practices. The girls are deprived of their rights.
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The parents themselves consider that the birth of a girl child is more like a burden. Eventually, she will be getting married, having babies, and doing the household works for which she should not be given an education. Well, because that’s just lost to the parents in terms of time and money.
Many of the marriage that takes place is often arranged by the parents themselves or the relatives or the neighbors. And in some areas of Nepal, girls are married at the age so young that she does not have a clue about what is a boy, what is marriage.
The age is one and a half years old. To be honest, marriage at the age of 1 and a half years old is no different than being stupid. Some marriages take place before the girls even start their menstrual cycle. Young age and immature minds will do no good to the people and the nation itself.
The tradition of child marriage has been continuing for years and years now. It has become more like a ritual- my mother did it, so will I and then my child will continue and so on and on.
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Love marriages are against the rule. If the people find out that you have been involved with a boy without letting others know or against the opposition, then that becomes a life threat.
The boy and the girls are both given warnings or else they will be killed straight away. Thus, due to such threats, the couples elope without thinking about future plans. The consequences of child marriage are deeply harmful.
Married children do not complete their education, the girls have babies at an early age which can be harmful to both the child and the mother. The reason behind early babies is due to the unawareness of contraception and the pressure they are given from their in-laws to give them a child as soon as possible. And when they mean a child, it generally denotes to a boy child because they assume that men can only take care of the family rather than a girl.
As per the statistics, early childbearing is risky for both the mother and child. Not only has the child, but the mother also faced health consequences that had taken their lives away.
Even if the child is born, the child may suffer from various premature diseases which are caused due to insufficient nutrient. Also, the girl who marries as a child or at a young age is likely to suffer from domestic violence.
The girls who were exposed to various domestic violence, mental and physical trauma, rape by their husbands were interviewed. They were facing these kinds of problems on a daily basis.
The government of Nepal has taken some actions to stop the practice of child marriage. But these are up to the people, if they are not fully aware of child marriages then the practice will not stop in a society. Alongside this, the government should implement strict rules of punishing the one who supports this act.
The interview of UNESCO has found that most child marriage takes place in the lower caste than any other caste. It might be due to a lack of education, rights, and knowledge about family planning. They are the group that is underprivileged and are facing discrimination to date.
Poverty is the evil of every social crime and practice. As noticed, the main influencing factor of child marriage was poverty. Many parents have accepted that they married off their girl child because they could not feed them and had no money to send her to school.
For the best choice, it was okay to let their girl child marry any older men who were similar to her father’s age. Social pressures drive child marriage. In some communities, it is seen as normal for girls to marry someone after they reach puberty or even before that.
The payment of dowry which is considered to be illegal is still practiced in the village to date. The groom who is well educated and earns more asks more dowry to the bride. In some cases, dowry is an only financial incentive for marriage. If the girl cannot give money or dowry as per the husband’s demand, she is sometimes burnt alive or tortured every day.
Quality education provides protection from child marriage. Girls who are in school are less likely to get married because she will be knowing about the consequences of early marriage and early pregnancy.
A girl who is educated can teach her parents about the consequences. She will be marrying at the right age and will be educating her own child later and that’s how a cycle starts. Parents, on the other hand, are discouraged from sending their children to school because 1. School is not available 2. Poor quality education and 3. High fees.
While the Nepal government focuses on providing everybody with primary education and basic education, they still do not have an appropriate mechanism so that children will be compelled to come to the school.
The lack of education on sexual and reproductive health is the main problem. Many married girls were asked about what they knew about contraception, but they had no knowledge about it. Many NGO, INGO was actively involved in teaching them about the ways they can do to avoid unwanted pregnancy at an early age.
Girls who have had love marriage said that they had eloped to avoid arrange marriage pressure, abusive behavior. Girls also claim that the impact of rumors and gossip on their marriage. When rumors spread about the pair, they had no choice but to marry. Girls who were sexually involved fell pregnant or feared pregnancy due to which they were rushed into marriage.
The situation is certainly getting better at some places even though the problem has not been totally eradicated. With a growing economy, the government of Nepal has been implementing rules for the problem.
The influence of social media and the internet has also been improving the problem. We shall be hopeful that there will not be any cases of child marriage in the future.