NUWAKOT, June 27: The April earthquake flattened majority of houses in Kagati village in Nuwakot, which is just 17 kilometres from the capital Kathmandu, forcing many to find survival out in the open. The quake rendered around 550 families homeless in wards 7 and 8 of Okharpauwa VDC. Two months on, as locals struggle to find proper shelters to live in, as the monsoon rains are making life more difficult, there is an increasing fear that child marriages will go up.
Even before the quake, the village had high prevalence of child marriage, said to Chakra Man Shrestha, a teacher at Shree Bhawani Secondary School. “Earlier, girls were married off at the age of 12-15, but of late the trend had stopped, and girls at the age of 15-18 were being married off,” said Shrestha, adding, “Now we are fearing, in the aftermath of quake, cases of child marriage will go up.”
“Almost all the families have lost their houses and property to the earthquake. Those who could barely make ends meet before the earthquake are having an even tougher time, and are struggling to earn two square meals a day. They might think that their burden could be lessened by marrying their daughters,” he told a team of the United Nations Population Fund that had reached the village this week to take stock of child marriage situation in the aftermath of the earthquake.
When Durga Bahadur Balami got married 14 years ago, he was 12 and his bride barely nine. A father of three children now, Balami said, “Poverty and lack of awareness among locals are the two main reasons of child marriage.”
“Many parents have incurred heavy financial losses due to the earthquake. They might think that if they marry off their daughters, they will have fewer mouths to feed.”
Nepal already has a high level of child marriage with one in 10 girls married by the age of 15 and four in 10 before their 18th birthday, according to data.
According to the 2011 census, more than 750,000 women in Nepal today were married between 10 and 14 years of age. More than half of girls/women between 15 and 19 (2.7 million out of 4.3 million) reported they were married, meaning more than 73 percent of girls are married by the time they turn 19 (both the census and UNICEF use age 19 as a cut-off point, technically overlapping with adulthood).
Child marriage, human trafficking and other forms of violence increase in times of disasters, according to UNFPA. “Keeping this in mind, it is fundamental to continue working together with the government, international organisations and local partners to prevent violence and raise awareness in the communities and provide support and services.
Part of UNFPA’s response to the recent earthquake has been to carry out reproductive health camps in the affected districts and set up female-friendly spaces to providing life-saving services and strengthen protection mechanisms for women and girls,” said Giulia Vallese, Representative of UNFPA in Nepal.
Nepal outlawed child marriages like Biswokarma’s in 1963 (and subsequently outlawed caste discrimination in 1991).
A version of this article appears in print on June 28, 2015 of The Himalayan Times.