Thursday, 13 June, 2024

Eliminating Child Marriage

Indu Pant Ghimire /Saurav Raj Pant

Child marriage has been a pressing social problem in Nepal. Primarily, it has been interplay of economic and social forces against women. Child marriage halts women’s holistic development process from attending minimum education, job prospects and self-esteem. According to UNICEF, 45 per cent of women aged 20-24 years reported married before the age of 18. Almost 17 per cent of them are married before the age of 15. However, the practice has declined from 63 per cent in 1985 to 45 per cent in 2010 as well as girls under 15 (32 per cent in 1985 to 17 per cent in 2010). Statistics show that the trend is quite distressing and it requires cutting edge project to limit these figures to zero.
The two social factors are monstrously affected when girls go through marriage in an early age. Those two social factors are health and education, which define the overall development process of any humans. The women who suffer from child marriages have been diagnosed with several health related problems. As per the OHCR, one of the common health problems that women face in Nepal due to child marriage is uterine prolapse. This is highly stigmatized in the country leading women to halt for seeking medical treatment at an early stage. Also, 14 per cent of uterine prolapse cases are reported before 20.
In addition to this, girls and women are heavily affected in terms of receiving education due to child marriage. Girls’ enrollment in primary of level is almost equal to that of boys. From 1990 school enrollment rates of boys and girls have been increased from 64 per cent to 96 per cent. But in secondary level, it is significantly less because of early marriage among girls. Retention of girls in schools has been a bigger challenge. This is because most of the girls entering teenage are married which forces them to stop further study. The chances of re-starting education by married girls seem very less probable. They are limited to the household chores and trapped in the so-called patriarchal values.
In an effort to limit child marriage in Nepal, the government had formulated National Strategy on eliminating child marriage by 2030 (in line with 5.3 of SDGs) and National Framework of Action on Holistic Adolescent Development. Besides, the government has made commitments in an international forum for ending child marriage in the country. The Girls’ Summit was held in London in July 2014 where the Government of Nepal had pledged to work towards ending child marriage by 2020. Interestingly, the government held another Girls’ Summit in Kathmandu in March 2016 to re-adjust its timely commitment to eliminating child marriage by 2030. With all these setbacks and limitations, the government is still the prime actor in eliminating child marriage. Its role as a frontrunner in eliminating child marriage is unchallenged. It has designed and implemented behavioural and policy-level intervention for dealing with child marriage.
In October 2018, CEDAW’s Sixth periodic review was held in Geneva. The meeting also discussed the situation in Nepal. As discussed in the meeting, there has been the lack of proper definition of ‘violence’ in the Constitution of Nepal 2015, which however, has focused on Dalit, Madhesi, indigenous and women from religious minorities as well as lesbian, gay bisexual, transgender and intersex woman---suffered from a intersectional and multiple forms of violence (OHCR, 2018). Violence is itself a very abstract terminology and if not provided with specific definition, this issue becomes defected. The lack of proper definition of violence will not guide specific law formation related to further escalation of violence. This ultimately results in increment of the suffering of victims
Several international/non-governmental organisations and inter-governmental agencies have been working for the elimination of child marriage. The initiatives like National Adolescent Sexual and Reproduction Health, Village Child Protection Committees(VCPC), Kishore Bikash Karyakram/Choose your Future(CYF), Rupantaran, Chunauti, Tipping point, Her Turn, Girls power program, SAMVAD, Sathi Sanga Maan ka Kura/Voices Radio, Inter—faith dialogue, Choices-Voices—Promises, Asia Child Marriage Initiative have been running in Nepal partnering with several governmental, non-governmental and inter-governmental agencies. Still, the efforts have been limited. But all of these issues are entangled with the religious norms and values and often associated with communal beliefs and mindset.
Parents are the prime stakeholders in eliminating child marriage. Their attitudes towards perceiving girls, providing sexual and reproduction education for their kids really matters in reducing child marriage. But in practical, it has been found that, parents are the sole major factors in pushing children for child marriage. Parents in the society face constant pressure from their peers as their daughter grows older. The shaming on the girls and her dignity becomes talk of the town when she delays marriage. This interplay of society member blended with social norms and values pushes parents. But, in reality parents have to fight as parents is only the possible means to fight for the rights for their kids than any other societal members.
These days, trends of love marriage, marriage partner’s chosen by boy and girl themselves and use of mobile phones among teenagers accelerating the relationship formation process among teenagers. As we know, the government has re-adjusted its commitment to end child marriage in Nepal by 2030 from 2020; which resembles lack of substantial working efficiency among government agencies as well as coordination among non-state actors. So, harmonised effort is needed from all non---state actors to boost government’s task. We are living in world where the relationship dynamics is changing--from joint family to nuclear family and even living together relationship. These global trends are put in front by mobile phones and use of internet affecting the youngsters. But all of these changing relationships dynamics should be guided with smart guidance and proper social security programmes which will reduce the negative impact among teenagers.
So, all this mess doesn’t have a one line answer. The traditions which have been practiced more than millennia can’t be changed overnight. That is why we need an evolutionary initiative, which would have a probability of transferring from generation to generation not a mutational initiative which would stop after the project ends. So there should be a proper behavioural communication model among the networks of the society.

(Indu is a former gender advisor for CARE Nepal while Saurav is an international relations researcher & development consultant.)