Legal provisions apart, education is the only way to eradicate child marriage

Despite the fact that the three tiers of government have given priority to ending early or child marriage, this trend still continues in most rural parts of the country due to illiteracy, poverty and lack of awareness about its consequences. Nepal ranks third in Asia in terms of child marriage after India and Bangladesh. Child marriage is not only harmful to their physical and mental growth, but it also deprives the couple of getting a better education, ultimately resulting in unemployment and rendering them as unskilled labour force. Many women also die while giving birth at a tender age. As per the existing law, no one is allowed to get married until s/he reaches 20 years of age. Out of the seven provinces, Madhes and Karnali provinces have the highest incidence of child marriage. These provinces have come up with various programmes to alleviate child marriage. Madhes Province has launched the "Beti Padhau, Beti Bachau"campaign, introduced a daughter insurance policy and also distributed bicycles for eighth grader girls and given scholarships to Dalit girls. Karnali Province has also introduced a scheme under which a certain amount of money is deposited in a girl's bank account on a monthly basis. This amount can be withdrawn only after the girl reaches 20 years of age and completes grade 12.

The government's goal of eradicating child marriage by 2030 could be achieved provided that the three tiers of government work together by formulating appropriate policies and programmes as well as raising awareness among the targeted communities, who give away their daughters in marriage at a tender age. At a function organised in Janakpurdham the other day, officials from the federal and provincial governments stressed the need to enhance coordination and cooperation among the three tiers of government to eradicate the existing child marriage. The prevailing trend of child marriage cannot be eradicated unless the three tiers of government raise a regular awareness campaign among the children and their parents.

In order to bring an end to early or child marriage, some local levels, where it is widely practised, have recently introduced a mandatory rule requiring the parents to obtain permission from their respective ward offices before getting their children married. The ward offices will give marriage permission based on the birth registration record. There has also been suggestions that the anomalies seen in the authenticity of the date of birth can be resolved once and for all if birth registration at the ward office is recognised as the only official document. For this, the ward offices of all the municipalities and rural municipalities should be strengthened with skilled human resources and logistic support such as a computer record keeping system. Legal provisions and various positive interventions apart, education is the only way to alleviate child marriage, especially among the Dalits and marginalised communities who still lack access to better education. The federal and provincial governments, in general, and the local level, in particular, can play a vital role in eradicating the existing child marriage. The local levels should improve the condition of the public schools so that the drop-out rate at the school level is minimised to a desired level.

Justice for all

Frustration runs deep in the people these days, with a great deal of angst targeted against political figures. On Tuesday, a person, said to be associated with Nepal Communist Party (Bahumat) was arrested in Siraha for allegedly throwing mobil at Mayor Shyam Kumar Shrestha of Golbazaar Municipality. As was expected, the arrested person was thrashed badly by the mayor's party activists before the police could intervene. Such attacks on elected representatives or anyone are inexcusable, regardless of who commits the offense and why.

On the other hand, pamphlets left at the scene accuse the mayor of shielding loan sharks and pocketing million in taxes. If this is the case, an investigation should be started in accordance with the laws of the land. Usury is rampant in the rural parts of Nepal, and the victims who are forced to pay exorbitantly high interest rates, have been picketing the different ministries for justice. This is an issue that should have been resolved at the local level. When the victims have to march to the capital to make themselves heard, it gives credence to the belief that the elected representatives are working hand in glove with the loan sharks.

A version of this article appears in the print on March 31, 2023, of The Himalayan Times.