Child marriage, still prevalent in many parts of rural Nepal, is a violation of child rights, which restricts their access to fundamental rights. Nepal apart, child marriage is also rampant in other South Asian countries.
According to UNICEF, in 2017, Nepal ranked 17th among countries with a high prevalence of child marriage. In Nepal, child marriage is not solely due to poverty and lack of education.
The patriarchal culture is also a factor contributing to child marriage. According to law, a boy and a girl can marry at the age of 18 with parental consent and at the age of 20 without their permission.
Child marriage has serious health consequences for the girl, but the bride's family give away their daughters early as it involves little or no dowry. The uterus of a teen-aged girl is too small, which affects pregnancy.
And, even if she gives birth to a baby, it becomes extremely hard for her to look after the baby and perform the household chores at the same time.
One can well imagine how hard it is for an under-aged girl to perform all such chores for the whole family. She gets no time to socialise with her peers and has even less time to communicate with new people.
Such a busy schedule and lack of communication with outsiders could lead to mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety.
In the Tarai, the older the daughter gets, the more dowry the bride's family has to offer.
So, in trying to avoid giving more dowry, the girl becomes a victim of child marriage.
Child marriage results in domestic violence, abuse and unsafe sex, which could lead to court cases. We get to hear of bride burning by the groom's family for not bringing enough or any dowry.
Once a girl gets married early, it becomes almost impossible for her to continue her higher studies. Almost half of the girl population got married when they were less than 18 in 2017, according to UNICEF. This not only affects an individual but the whole country. No higher education means no women empowerment.
Hence, for the sake of the nation, it is essential to eradicate the practice of child marriage.
To eradicate such an evil practice that goes against child rights, awareness programmes must be conducted from time to time with the active participation of teen girls. The government needs to draft strict rules and regulations against it and regulate them effectively.
NGOs must be involved to eliminate child marriage and empower women. The dowry system that encourages child marriage should also be prohibited.
After all, every child deserves freedom and quality education, which comes under 'child rights'.
A version of this article appears in the print on March 4, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.