Surkhet, January 16
Teenager Asha Charti Karki told her parents she was going out to study, but instead she ran off to wed her boyfriend. She is one of a growing number of Nepali teenagers who are marrying young by choice.
“There were rumours about us in the village and I had fights at home. I felt I had no choice but to run away,” Karki told AFP at her home in the western district of Surkhet.
Nepal has one of the world’s highest rates of child marriage even though the practice was banned five decades ago. The legal age for marriage is now 20. Some 50 per cent of Nepali women aged between 25 to 49 were married by their 18th birthday, according the Himalayan nation’s 2016 Demographic Health Survey.
Marriages are traditionally arranged by parents, with many forcing their children to marry for cultural reasons or out of poverty.
Such marriages are declining but child rights activists warn that an increasing number of underage couples are eloping and opting for ‘love marriage’ — a term used to describe unions by choice.
A 2014 survey by Girls Not Brides Nepal, which is part of a global network set up to end child marriage, found that one-third of such unions were initiated by young couples themselves, and that the trend was increasing.
“This practice is posing a challenge for us and for the government. We can tell the parents but it is hard to convince young boys and girls when they marry by choice,” Anand Tamang of Girls Not Brides Nepal told AFP.
Tamang said voluntary child marriages, like forced unions, still pose the same risks, including dropping out of school, domestic violence and health problems. Girls, in particular, lose the support of their families when they elope, he added.
Karki was among those who quit school early after getting married, as she had to struggle to cope with household chores and family responsibilities.
Soon after eloping, she found out she was pregnant. “I was only 16, too young to understand what I was getting into,” she said, cradling her two-year-old daughter.
“I had lied to my parents and run away, but I was actually betraying myself and my future.”
Her early pregnancy left her with uterine prolapse, a painful condition which sees the uterus or womb descend and protrude out of the vagina. “It is difficult. I often see my friends and wonder where I would be if I had not married,” she added.
While the Nepali government has implemented a national strategy to end child marriages — punishable with jail terms and a fine — by 2030, it acknowledges the programme can only be successful if the roots of the problem are tackled.
Some girls elope to avoid a potential forced marriage, or to escape poverty or chores at home.
With teen romances seen as socially unacceptable in much of rural Nepal, young couples feel they have to run away and get married to legitimise their relationship. Others feel pushed to marry if they become pregnant.
Meanwhile, underage love marriages are rarely reported to authorities, with families only seeking legal recourse if they disapprove of unions such as in the case of inter-caste marriages.
“(The) main (thing) is education. It is important that they understand that being sexually active does not equate to marriage,” Krishna Prasad Bhusal of the Ministry of Women, Children and Senior Citizens told AFP.
Karki hopes she can help other girls by sharing her experiences with them as part of a programme called Sisters for Sisters’ Education run by British charity VSO Nepal.
“I tell them that they should not have to marry and teach others like me that they should learn from my mistakes now,” she said.
In her role as ‘big sister’, Karki persuaded 17-year-old Aradhana Nepal to leave her abusive marriage and return to school.
Nepal was only 13 when she eloped with a boy she barely knew. There had been gossip about them and she didn’t know what else to do to protect her reputation.
It was only after they married that she discovered he was a violent drug addict. She endured beatings for months before she escaped.
She recalled: “It was a mistake. Leaving that marriage saved my life.”
A version of this article appears in print on January 17, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.
Durbar Marg shops to open from today Other traders, businesses also defiant KATHMANDU, JUNE 3 With no end in sight to the nationwide lockdown imposed on March 24 that has effectively halted all economic activities for the past two-and-a-half months, traders, firms and industries have be Read More...
KANCHANPUR: At least fifteen COVID-19 patients have been admitted to the isolation ward of Mahakali Hospital in Bhimdattanagar Municipality, Kanchanpur district. The isolation ward has a capacity of 20 beds. The hospital has started treatment of COVID-19 since Tuesday. Seven persons — reside Read More...
KATHMANDU, JUNE 3 After the plan to evacuate stranded Nepali citizens from several countries was approved by the Cabinet a few days ago, the government is gearing up to bring them home on priority basis from Friday. Narayan Bidari, secretary at the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of M Read More...
KATHMANDU, JUNE 3 The Ministry of Health and Population has directed hospitals to send home patients infected with the novel coronavirus who show mild or no symptom of the disease so that hospitals can treat severe cases of COVID-19. Hospitals treating COVID-19 patients have also been told to Read More...
KATHMANDU: The Ministry of Health and Population is mulling over proposing to the Council of Ministers to declare state of public health emergency in the country following a surge in the number of COVID-19 cases in the country. Section 48 (2) of the Public Health Service Act states that if public Read More...
NEPALGUNJ, JUNE 3 The COVID-19 spread seems to have come under control in Narainapur Rural Municipality, Banke, which had emerged as a coronavirus hotspot after a number of people tested positive for the virus here earlier. According to the district’s corona focal person Naresh Shrestha, it Read More...
KATHMANDU, JUNE 3 The Government of Nepal has published ‘Hazard Allowance Management Order for Human Resources Involved in the Treatment of COVID-19 Infection’ in Nepal Gazette for its implementation. The order aims to provide hazard allowance to the human resources involved in the identif Read More...
KATHMANDU, JUNE 3 Kathmandu Medical College Teaching Hospital in Sinamangal has been shut for an indefinite period after two of its health workers contracted COVID-19. The hospital’s Medical Director Dr Mukunda Raj Joshi issuing a notice today, informed that the hospital would be closed for Read More...