The scourge of child marriage throughout the world is well documented. In an effort to stop the social evil from rearing its ugly head, many countries have enacted various laws. While the frequency of child marriage has dramatically dwindled across the world, thanks to the concerted efforts put into raising awareness, in impoverished countries plagued by a string of problems, such practice is still widespread. According to the UNICEF, child marriage is defined as a marriage of a girl or boy before the age of 18 and it refers to both formal marriages and informal unions in which children under the age of 18 live with a partner as if married. Although both boys and girls are adversely affected by child marriage, it is girls who are disproportionately affected, says the UN body.
Child marriage robs children of their rights – right to education, right to health, right to protection, among others. Researches show child brides are more likely to die during pregnancy complications and childbirth, to be subjected to domestic violence, to drop out of school, to have far less chances of finding decent jobs. As a result, they have slimmer chances of contributing to society. Nepal has made a great stride in reducing child marriage, but a lot still has to be done if we are to eradicate it. The reduction is mainly due to a number of factors: rising level of education, strong legislation, changing family structures, migration from villages to cities, among others. The legal marriageable age in the country is 20, but that has done little to dissuade many people, particularly in the rural areas, from getting married before they reach that age.
In the remote corners of the country, the vice is still widely practiced. In a recent news report this daily ran, it was mentioned that Bajura, in the Sudurpaschim Province, went to the poll to decide whether child marriage is right or wrong. The poll was a part of the campaign against child marriage in the district. Out of the 280 votes cast, an overwhelming majority – 262 – were against the practice. Only 14 were in support. This is very good news and bodes well not only for the district but also for the entire country. We hope this will set a precedent not only for the neighbouring districts which are equally backward in terms of social progress, but also for the country as a whole. It also shows our society is changing for the better and bringing up and educating its girls on par with the boys has now become a priority.
What the researches also find is that particularly families from poor economic background are more likely to allow and even persuade their children – especially girls – to get married early. That’s because a girl is taken as a ‘mouth to feed’ hence a burden. Not long ago, several media outlets reported that many people who were rendered jobless in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic were either marrying off their girl child or selling them just to get by. If they are true, that is a reversal of hard-earned achievement after decades-long efforts. The government has a vital role to play in not allowing this to happen.