- Child marriage demands a targeted response from the government
Dec 2, 2014-
In an ideal world, 17-year old Setimaya Chepang of Kakada-7 in Makwanpur would be a college-going student whose only responsibility would be her studies. But education is a farfetched dream for Setimaya, who is already mother to four children—two boys and two girl ranging from one to three-and-a-half years of age. She is currently pregnant with her fifth child. In neighbouring Rautahat, the situation is even worse. Two years ago, Kailash Malli married his four-year-old daughter to an eight-year-old boy. His reasons for doing so were that late marriage means more dowry for the daughter and a belief that it was a sin to marry off a girl after menstruation.
According to the Muluki Ain, the legal age for marriage is 18 with parental consent and 20 without. Violation of this law is punishable by imprisonment of up to three years and/or a fine of up to Rs 10,000. But this does not seem to have deterred offenders. According to the 2011 Census, 48.49 percent of Nepal’s married population was wed in between the ages of 15-19. The 2011 Nepal Demographic and Health Survey shows that in 2001, the percentage of women and men who had married between 15-19 was 40 and 17 percent, respectively. In 2011, these numbers had reduced to 29 percent for women and 7 percent for men. But such progress cannot be generalised for all places and communities. For instance, in Kapilvastu, the census finds that 75 percent of its currently married population had tied the knot before 19 years of age. A 2012 report by Save the Children, titled ‘Child Marriage Report in Nepal’, cautions that child marriage is still widely prevalent among the illiterate, and among Janajatis and Dalits.
The impact of early marriage on children is wide-ranging. In the context of girls, as in Setimaya’s case, they are either denied education or are forced to dropout of school to look after their children. Their health and psycho-social well-being is compromised, as they become mothers when they are neither physically nor mentally prepared. Many boys too quit school to fend for their families. And this keeps the family trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty.
Clearly, laws fixing the age of marriage alone are not enough to put an end to child marriage. There is a greater need to convince parents that there exists a better future for their children through education, not marriage. For that, the government, along with agencies working for child rights, need to collaborate and come up with programmes focussed on the needs of vulnerable communities—Dalits and indigenous groups like the Chepangs—and areas—the Far and Mid-West and the Tarai—where such practices are more prevalent. Likewise, involving women and men from those communities, who married young themselves, in convincing others of the possible difficulties they could face by marrying early could greatly help the cause.
Published: 03-12-2014 09:23