Kathmandu, September 14
Lawyers and stakeholders have said that criminalisation of child marriage as provisioned in the new penal code alone would not solve problems.
Participants of a talk programme organised by SAARC Law, Nepal on child marriage said annulling child marriage could result in non-registration of children born to underage parents and girls facing disproportionate consequences. They said child marriage was outlawed in the past too, but that did not solve the problems as many other issues, such as social awareness against the evil and society’s attitude that girls should remain chaste before marriage remained unaddressed.
The new penal code has stipulated that if marriage is solemnised between two people’s below the age of 20 years, then that would be voided.
Women rights activist Indu Panta said child marriage was a self-initiated act in the hills whereas in the Tarai it was a coping strategy as Dalit families wary of dowry chose to marry their daughters when they are still children. “There is a concept that they will have to pay lower dowry if their daughters are younger,” she said. She said child marriage was taking place also because parents were of the view that their daughters would remain chaste before marriage and they would marry in their own caste. Stating that comprehensive sex education could help discourage child marriage, Panta said the irony was that teachers in remote villages were scared of teaching sex education because they feared reprisal from conservative villagers for whom sex remained a taboo.
Human rights activist Shyam Babu Kafle said stakeholders should discuss seriously whether forcing people to marry only after reaching 20 years of age would be practical.
Advocacy manager of World Vision Rabindra Gautam said if marriage below the age of 20 years were annulled then many children born out of such marriage might not be registered in the government data and they could be deprived of state facilities. “In China lakhs of children were not registered when parents violated one-child policy,” he argued.
Former Attorney General Hari Phuyal said the Ministry of Women, Children and Senior Citizen needed to launch social awareness and other programmes to facilitate the implementation of the new anti-child marriage provision.
Attorney General Agni Prasad Kharel said problems might arise due to criminalisation of child marriage, but the government must put in place mechanisms to deal with the impacts and not try to lower the age of marriageable age.
Supreme Court Justice Sapana Pradhan Malla said 38 per cent children get married before reaching marriage age and therefore, criminalisation of child marriage alone would not solve the problem.
“If child marriage is annulled, the consequence that can arise out of it should also be weighed. In our society once a girl loses virginity which the child marriage can result in, it will be difficult for the girl to get remarried and thus girls will be disproportionately affected,” she said and added that the government must also think of the future of the child conceived by underage girl. She said people in developing countries were increasingly voicing concerns that annulling child marriage was not the right solution.
Another SC Justice Hari Krishna Karki said child marriage should be discouraged but criminalization of child marriage alone would not be enough. “The focus should be on the societal awareness,” he added.
A version of this article appears in print on September 15, 2018 of The Himalayan Times.