Child marriages driven by dowry, old beliefs

- POST REPORT, Chitwan
Child marriages driven by dowry, old beliefs

Dec 1, 2014-

While kids her age are just getting enrolled in primary school, six-year-old Shila Kumari Malli, a girl from the impoverished Dom community of Chandranigahapur in Rautahat district is already married. At an age when one does not even understand what marriage means, she was forcibly married off to Bikesh Malli, 8, son of Binod Malli of Ganjabhawanipur in Bara two years ago.

Shila’s father Kailash Malli said he married off his daughter at such a young age as he would not have to give large dowry to the groom’s side for an underage bride.

“I married off my daughter early because I cannot afford to give a large dowry,” he said, adding that he had to only give a bicycle and Rs 7,000 in cash to the groom’s side as per the ancient practice of providing a girl with a dowry at her marriage . He said that he also threw a small wedding party for his daughter in order to appease the groom’s side and those attending the marriage procession.

However, child marriages, though illegal, are not only driven by dowry and poverty. Kailash said that another reason that forced him to marry his daughter at such a young age was the traditional belief that they will be committing a major sin if they don’t marry off their daughters before they start to menstruate.

The dowry system, a social ill that is rampant across the country, and especially among Madhesi community of Tarai region, is one of the main reasons why the scourge of child marriage continues unabated in central Tarai district. Often parents who are illiterate and unaware about the negative effects of underage marriage were found marrying off their children at a young age.

According to District Hospital in Rautahat, out of total 556 delivery cases at the hospital in the past three months, 182 delivery cases involved women under the age of 20. Superintendent of Police Sanu Babu Thapaliya at the District Police Office in Rautahat, however, said that only two cases of underage marriage have been reported in the district in the past three months.

According to Dharmendra Paswan of the District Dalit Network, Rautahat, an NGO working for the rights of Dalit people, child marriage and dowry system is going on unabated in the district, depriving girls of their liberty and fundamental rights.

Similarly, the scourge of child marriage is also practiced by Chepang community of Makwanpur district. According to a report on the reproductive health of Chepang women recently published by Makawanpur District Public Health Office, a mind-boggling 86 percent of children from the Chepang community living in western VDCs are married off between the ages of 12 to 15 and that girls from the community start becoming pregnant at a tender age of 13.

Bharta, one of the VDCs in Makawanpur district where Chepang community form the dominant community, witnessed 24 underage marriages last year, with five underage marriage in the past five months this fiscal year, said Mahesh Chepang, secretary of Nepal Chepang Association, Makwanpur.  

Meanwhile, health experts say that women marrying early are prone to serious health risks. Gitamaya Chepang, now 17, of Lothar-9, who was married off when she was just 14, said that she suffered excessive bleeding and pain when she delivered her first child. “Now I get terrible stomach pain whenever I have to work,” she said.

Likewise, Janaki Sah, now 40, of Dhore-6 in Parsa, who got married at the age of 15, had to get her uterus removed because of labour and delivery complications. She is a mother of three children now. “I feel I do not have any energy in my body. I also suffer from constant back pain,” she said. Dr Sunilmani Pokharel, chief at the Department of Gynecology at Bharatpur Hospital, said that the bodies of girls who are married early are not ready to bear children as their reproductive organs are not fully developed, posing serious health risks to both the mother and child.

(With inputs from Pratap Bista in Makawanpur, Bimal Khatiwada in Chitwan, Shankar Acharya in Parsa, Shiva Puri in Rautahat and Manoj Poudel in Kapilvastu)

Published: 02-12-2014 09:51

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