EDITORIAL: No child’s play

Education will be a highly important factor in drastically bringing down the practice of child marriage in the country

Legislation alone is not enough to eliminate most social evils. This is most strongly seen in the superstitions and other wrong practices prevalent against girls. For example, the law banned child marriage long ago in Nepal, but the practice goes on even now in an alarming degree. Indeed, this is more prevalent among some sections of society than others. The law has specified minimum ages of boys and girls for marriage at 20 years. But violations of these legal provisions are still taking place with a high degree of impunity. To bring this problem of the girl child, Nepal has just hosted its first-ever Girl Summit as part of its commitment to eliminate this evil from the country by 2030 A.D. This summit brought together people of both genders from various walks of Nepali life as well as from the foreign diplomatic community to lend their voice to the cause of the girl child. The practice of child marriage has nipped the potential of personality development of innumerable girls in the bud, apart from the undesirable health and other consequences of this practice that minor girls have to face in life after their marriage.

According to one estimate, nearly half of all the women in the country between the ages of 20 and 49 years were married before their 18th birthday. Of these, 15 percent were less than even 15 years at the time of marriage. Teenage marriage is very prevalent in the country even today, though marriage of girls before the start of their teenage may not be frequent. The Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare (MoWCSW), the organizer of the one-day event, has unveiled a special Girl Empowerment Programme which aims to eliminate child marriage in the country by 2030. Target setting is a good thing but the most important thing is how this target is going to be met and how effective the means employed will be. As for the law and the punishment for anybody who arranges, endorses or encourages child marriage, they already exist. The government should, however, focus on implementing the law more effectively.

But this cannot provide the complete solution. Education will be a highly important factor in drastically bringing down the practice of early marriage. The families who are educated are rarely seen to marry off their daughters too early whether there is any law barring child marriage or not. Therefore, education should receive top priority, as British Prince Harry also stressed at the summit. Massive and long-term awareness programmes with wider public participation need to be devised and implemented with a social message that is powerfully conveyed to those people who need such a message the most from legal, social, physical, moral, and other points of view. Child marriages are more frequent in the Terai belt of the country where the dowry system runs strong. This is reported to have discouraged many parents to invest much in their daughters’ education because they will have to marry off their daughters by paying a high dowry over which negotiations take place before fixing the marriage. The Government’s empowerment programme will also have to address such interconnected issues.

The killer disease

As many as 7,000 persons die of tuberculosis every year in Nepal and around 40,000 new cases of TB patients are recorded. Half of them are victims of communicable TB and due to non-adherence to the prescribed drugs. The figure was revealed at a function organized to mark the World TB Day in Chitwan where experts said 45 percent of the total population and 60 percent of the adult population are prone to the disease. World Health Organisation has estimated that around 1.4 million people die of the disease worldwide every year, most of them from the under-developed countries.

The government has been providing drugs to the TB patients free of cost and most of the people are administered under the directly observed treatment method so that the patients do not miss the daily doses. The persons suffering from the killer disease can be cured from within six months or one year if they take the prescribed drugs regularly. All the health centres and sub-health posts provide the life saving drugs across the country. Some TB cases are hereditary while others suffer from it after contact  with TB-infected people who have not taken medicine. The best way to prevent it is to raise public awareness about it.