Despite stringent legal provisions and ample interventions against child marriage on the part of the government and non-government organisations, this social evil is rampant and continues to worsen in the country.

According to latest figures released by Nepal Police, as many as 84 cases of child marriage were reported in the fiscal 2020-21 against 64 in 2019-20, an increase by 31.25 per cent. This indicates that child marriage has continued to rise at an alarming rate.

There were 86 cases of child marriage reported in 2018-19.

Most of the brides and bridegrooms were children. In some cases, minor girls were married off to elderly men.

Senior Superintendent of Police Basanta Bahadur Kunwar, Nepal Police spokesperson, said the major causes for underage marriage were undue pressure from parents or guardians and deep-rooted superstition.

Nearly 40 per cent of the minors tied the knot of their own accord in 2020-21.

Police, in association with local child clubs, foiled around 20 cases of child marriage. As per the existing law, child marriage is referred to as a marriage entered into by a male or a female before attaining the age of 20 years.

Before the age of 20, girls are neither physically nor emotionally ready to become wives or mothers, so is the case with boys.

According to a 2019 report released by the Ministry of Women, Children and Senior Citizens, child marriage not only deprives girls of education, but it often makes them vulnerable to a cycle of discrimination, domestic violence and abuse. The report encourages children to make their parents aware that an individual must attain at least 20 years of age to get married.

Section 173 of the Criminal Code Act states that anyone found guilty of committing or assisting child marriage shall be liable to a jail term not exceeding three years and a fine of up to Rs 30,000.

The MoWCSC said it had issued a procedure for carrying out programmes at local levels to eliminate social anomalies and malpractices like child marriage. The procedure aims to incorporate anti-child marriage programmes into periodic and annual plans and programmes of the local levels and implement the same in an effective manner; ensure the participation of male children, teenagers and men in the fight against child marriage; and mobilise children, teenagers, parents, guardians, teachers, political and religious leaders and other stakeholders.

The programmes to be conducted by the local levels include raising awareness about child rights, sexuality, sexual and reproductive health and rights, through anti-child marriage campaign; training for child clubs and communities; development of child-friendly infrastructure; formation and mobilisation of child and youth clubs exclusively against such social malpractices; conducting awareness programmes at the family level in association with government and non-government organisations; and ending child marriage and gender discrimination.

A version of this article appears in the print on September 15 2021, of The Himalayan Times.