South Asia

Children have their ‘futures stolen’ by child marriage, claims report

17-year-old Anjana M., married at 14, sits outside her home with her two-year-old daughter Ishita. Anjana’s aunt and uncle pressured her to marry her husband because of rumors about her relationship with him. Photo credit: 2016 - Smita Sharma - Human Rights Watch
17-year-old Anjana M., married at 14, sits outside her home with her two-year-old daughter Ishita. Anjana’s aunt and uncle pressured her to marry her husband because of rumors about her relationship with him. Photo credit: 2016 – Smita Sharma – Human Rights Watch

Child marriage is still widely prevalent in Nepal and practiced equally in Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim and Christian communities, according to a report by non-governmental organization, Human Rights Watch.

“Many children in Nepal, both girls and boys, are seeing their futures stolen from them by child marriage,” said Heather Barr, women’s rights researcher at the NGO.

“Nepal’s government promises reform, but in towns and villages across the country, nothing has changed,” she added.

The report states that poverty is a major cause of child marriage in Nepal. Almost a quarter of the population lives on less than $1.25 each day. Food insecurity, gender discrimination, dowry are also causes. CARE, another NGO, have claimed that unscrupulous traffickers prayed on children orphaned in last year’s earthquakes which has caused a recent rise in child marriage.

“Child marriage often results in a vicious cycle of malnutrition, poor health and ignorance, since a child bride is more likely to drop out of school and experience problems during pregnancy and childbirth,’ stated the report which was based on over 100 interviews with children, former child brides, parents and activists.

“Such births are more likely to be underweight or die before age 5,” said the report.

Laws dating back to 1854 permit marriage of five-year-old girls, but the Nepalese civil code (the Muluki Ain) stipulated in 1976 that a girl must be 16 if marrying with parental consent and 18 without it. According to the Nepalese Country Code the current legal age of marriage in Nepal is 20 for both men and women.

The offence of child marriage is punishable with imprisonment of up to three years and a fine of 10,000 rupees (around 150 USD / £110) but Human Rights Watch stated that the law was rarely enforced.

Nepal is one of the 12 countries selected to be part of UNFPA and UNICEF’s Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage.

“The government considers child marriage as an act of violence and is making efforts to end the scourge, which is deep rooted in the society,” Sushila Paudel, an official from Nepal’s women’s ministry, told Thomson Reuters.

Child marriage is most prevalent in sub-Saharan African countries such as Niger and Chad but because of population size the largest number of child brides live in South Asia.

Nepal with a population of 28 million ranks third-highest after Bangladesh and India in child marriage in the whole of Asia, with 37 percent of girls marrying before 18.