But whatever is fueling child marriage, there is no doubt that it harms the physical and mental well-being of especially girls

Like many of the social maladies afflicting Nepali society, child marriage never seems to go away despite decades of efforts by the government and non-governmental organisations. Despite the heavy penalties laid down in the Criminal Code Act, child marriage not only continues but has actually seen an upsurge in recent years, especially during the coronavirus pandemic. According to the Nepal Police, 84 cases of child marriage were reported in 2020-21, up from 64 the previous year, an increase by 31.25 per cent. These statistics, however, make up just those cases that came to the notice of the police, with the actual number of child marriages in the country being far, far greater. In 2018-19, the police had recorded even more cases of child marriage – 86. In most of the cases, the couple were underage, but there are cases of minors being married off to elderly men.

Under Nepali law, a marriage brokered between a boy and a girl below 20 years of age is child marriage, and anyone committing or assisting it is liable to a three-year sentence along with a fine. Given the stringent laws, why would anyone take the risk and be a party to a child marriage? Pressure from the parents and guardians as well as tradition is the primary cause. But according to police, about 40 per cent of the minors got married on their own accord in 2020- 21. Television serials as well as the internet are a big influence on children these days, and children are already flirting with each other from an early age and engaging in promiscuous relationships.

Young girls are known to elope while attending village fairs, which have always been a meeting ground for young people and finding their life partners right there and then.

But whatever is fueling child marriage, there is no doubt that it harms the physical and mental well-being of especially girls. Girls are more likely to drop out of school immediately after marriage, depriving them of an education, while making them vulnerable to a cycle of discrimination, domestic violence and abuse. Since boys are likely to join the millions of youths who have gone abroad to work, young girls are left to fend for themselves in the new home.

The government must acknowledge that the laws and measures it has taken to curb child marriage have failed and must introduce more effective provisions.

Campaigns such as the 'Save the girl child, Educate the girl child' in province 2 and opening a bank account for every girl child born in Karnali to encourage her to complete school and delay child marriage must be pursued more vigorously. The Ministry of Women, Children and Senior Citizens has rolled out a procedure to incorporate anti-child marriage programmes into the local levels' plans and involve boys and men as well as other stakeholders in the campaign. Limiting the local level campaigns to a few days to create awareness is, however, not going to make much of a dent on child marriages.

A good education aimed at having everyone complete 12 years of school should be the focus of any campaign. This means building the right infrastructure with separate bathrooms for girls and having good, competent teachers who can influence both students and parents.

Solar energy

Nepal has a huge potential of generating clean energy from photovoltaic solar panels as the country receives sunlight for at least for 10 hours a day round the year in both the hills and Tarai region.

But we have not been able to reap much benefit from the renewable resource though the government has a target of generating up to 15 per cent of energy from solar or wind power under the energy mix policy to reduce the over dependency on hydropower projects.

Amidst this background, a 4-MW solar plant, promoted by Kushal Project Nepal Pvt., has come into operation in Rautahat's Chandrapur Municipality.

The plant is said to generate 5 lakh units of electricity per month. As per the agreement, the state-owned Nepal Electricity Authority will buy per unit of energy at Rs 7.30 generated from the plant for 25 years. The government has a policy of installing solar plants at 250 local levels. However, the government should encourage private firms to install solar plants in the hills so that fertile lands in the Tarai region can be saved for agriculture purpose. A study conducted by a Japanese firm has also confirmed that the hills are more suitable than the Tarai region for solar plants.

A version of this article appears in the print on September 16 2021, of The Himalayan Times.