Child marriage has plagued many third world countries for years despite recent efforts to eradicate it, yet Nepal is quickly falling behind their neighboring countries. In fact, in some countries like India, education and police efforts have dramatically decreased instances of child marriage as a whole. However, the same tactics don’t work for every country.
Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the South Asian region. According to new data released by Unicef, 765 million people today were married as children. Nepal has one of the highest rates of child marriage despite the practice being illegal since 1963. Not only are 40 percent of women aged 20-24 married by age 18, but the men are also marrying incredibly young. Child marriage rates in villages are also rising.
Because Nepal is such a poor country, it faces different and troubling obstacles when fighting the child marriage problem. Literacy rates are low and local officials that publicly oppose child marriage are secretly marrying their own children off. Social media and mobile phones make it easier for families to find prospective partners for their young children. What makes it especially difficult, however, is the fact that many find it perfectly reasonable to marry because of the rough economy.
Many families are able to make money off of the illegal dowries that are provided with the young girls. If girls wait to marry until they are older, it is often expected that they provide more land or money for their dowry. Once the girls begin menstruating, they are considered ready to marry and taken out of school. Then they are then expected to take care of their husband’s family while he goes off to earn money, mostly at low wage, hard labor jobs.
The government is working to change this mentality with whatever means necessary. They have recently changed the age of marriagefor women and men to 20. In January, they introduced cash incentives, insuring girls who go to school and providing over 1,000 bikes to one province to ensure that the girls have a way to get to school. Activists are also gathering along the Nepal border to intercept young girls who could be trafficked into prostitution. The country has vowed to get rid of child marriage by 2030, and in some places even sooner.
One of the biggest problems that prevent immediate change is pressure from parents. One 16-year-old boy, Rajesh, recently married to fulfill his mother’s last wish before she died of tuberculosis. He married a local 15-year-old girl with support from the rest of the community. “I don’t think anything is wrong with child marriage. It happens everywhere here. It is an expectation,” he said.
However, there are signs of hope within the next generation. Those who married young were often cornered into it because of the economy. They now regret it. Rakesh Sada, who married young, vows not to let his children face the same fate. He won’t let his daughters get married before age 20. “I have no other option except to raise my family in a better way, send my children to good schools and prepare for their futures,” he said.
One can only hope change is swift as girls continue to suffer at the hands of tradition.