Child Marriage in Nepal: Poverty Reinforces Custom

22/05/2012 - Nepal, a country of 29 million people, remains conservative with deeply rooted traditions like child marriage which are hard to break in the face of poverty and a lack of knowledge about law.

According to the latest government report published by the Central Child Welfare Board under Nepal's Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare, 34 per cent of all new marriages in Nepal involve children under the age of 15.

Yet, according to Nepali law, marriages involving those under the age of 18 are deemed to be "child marriages" and are illegal.

Some of the issues driving the high levels of child marriages include poverty, a lack of education and not understanding the law.

However, the wedding ceremony itself is considered to be one of the most important rituals in Nepal. It's a social service that holds religious connotations, and it would be difficult to explain how such an event could be harmful due to the age of the people getting married.

Rambhajan Yaday, who works on advocacy projects against child marriage, explained the challenge that "People don't want to interfere and obstruct something good."

Naming three regions in the south of Nepal, he claimed that "In Rupandehi, 89.5 per cent of girls are still married young, mostly under 18. The figures in Dhanusha stand at 59 per cent and Mahottari at 51 per cent."

Yadav also claimed that lack of awareness of the laws, social pressure and the low economic status of the family drive these statistics.

Early marriages are seen as beneficial for families living in poverty, as in certain communities, the amount of dowry that is due increases in proportion with the girl's age.

Experts working in the field of child rights also see early child marriage as one of the key factors that exclude girls from education. The adult literacy rate in Nepal for men is 71.6 per cent and 44.5 per cent for women.

According to the Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2011, of the 7.6 million illiterate adults in Nepal, 67 per cent are female. Regardless of the various laws that Nepal has against child marriage, child rights experts state there is a setback when it comes to implementation.

People usually do not report these cases of child marriage: marriages are community ceremonies and reporting them could not only jeopardise the bride's future but also strain village harmony.