When it comes to a young girl’s education, the investment is well worth it for struggling parents. But families living in Nepal are making short-sighted decisions when they take their daughters out of school and marry them off early.
Today, almost a quarter of a million Nepali children are not attending school. Authorities believe that most are girls and many are married. Literacy rates and secondary schooling participation rates are also higher among boys.
“We need to strongly lobby against early marriage by implementing the laws we already have,” said Dibya Dawadi of Nepal’s Department of Education, to the United Nations (UN) Integrated Regional Information Networks.
It is estimated that thousands of underage Nepali girls are married every year, missing out on the education that is their stepping stone to a brighter future, gainful employment and even the better health of their children.
Despite laws against child marriage enacted by the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare, more than a third of marriages in the Himalayan province still involved children under age 15.
In the eastern district, the situation is even worse. About half of marriages may involve girls as young as 12—perhaps even younger, says the IRIN. Once married, says a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) official, girls rarely attend school. And, even when attendance does not drop off, academic performance still tends to suffer.
Part of the motivation to marry girls off sooner rather than later lies in the price of the dowry. Age and a higher education can increase the price of a dowry. Some dowries can reach the equivalent of US$20,000.
About 46 per cent of the 10 million girls under 18 married every year take place in South Asia. A study published last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at trends in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan over the past twenty years. These are countries where at least of fifth of females married are girls.
The results of the study showed that between 1991-1994 and 2005-2007, the prevalence of girls married dropped in all four countries. With the exception of Bangladesh, there was almost no change in the number of girls aged 16 or 17 married. In Nepal, notes the report, child marriage among girls under 14 has fallen 57 per cent in recent times.
According to UNICEF, child marriage is most common in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Poverty remains a sticking variable against improvements. While the age of marriage is slowly rising, most gains are among higher-income families.
Under article 16 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), women have the right to enter into marriage only with full and free consent.
The convention further states that “the betrothal and the marriage of a child shall have no legal effect, and all necessary action, including legislation, shall be taken to specify a minimum age for marriage.”
Nepal became a party to the convention in 1991.