22-year-old Parvati has been advocating to end child marriage in her village in Udayapur for several years. She barely escaped child marriage herself. When she was 17, a proposal was made for the sister immediately above her but when the girl said that she wanted to continue studying, Parvati was offered instead. Parvati refused, but the lami (match-maker) did not give up and the boy’s family had made up their mind not to go back without a daughter-in-law. Being a member of a child club in her village in the past, she had attended orientations where she had learnt that child marriage is illegal and that boys and girls are not mature enough to get married before 20. It was not easy to convince her parents and the family of the boy, but she was determined and sought the support of the local Village Child Protection and Promotion Committee. Finally, others had to give way.
Since then, she has decided to do whatever she can so that no one else should have to go through what she had to go through.
UNICEF's The State of the World's Children report has ranked Nepal among the top ten countries for child marriage. Nepal ranks third, after India and Bangladesh, in South Asia, according to that report.
Nepal's Country Code states that punishment for child marriage is imprisonment for up to three years and a fine of up to 10,000 rupees ($100) but the implementation of these legal provisions is very feeble.
One of the causes as well consequences of child marriage is poverty. Food insecurity also plays a crucial role. It is a common practice in poor families to marry their daughters at a young age to decrease the financial burden and reduce the number of mouths to feed. The fear of dowry, which is another common and harmful practice and increases with the age of the girl, force parents to marry their daughters off at a young age especially in the Terai region.
Nonetheless, there has been some progress in Nepal over the years with the government's commitment to ending child marriage. The Government of Nepal endorsed Nepal’s first National Strategy to End Child Marriage in 2006 and a national implementation plan for the same is being developed.
To give momentum to this progress and with a goal to reduce child marriage in Nepal, World Vision International Nepal has joined hands with the National Youth Council and Association of Community Radio Broadcasters Nepal to run a five-year nation-wide campaign from 2017-2021. The campaign titled "It takes Nepal to end child marriage" was launched by Right Honourable President Bidya Devi Bhandari and attended by high-level dignitaries and children on 10 August 2017.
This campaign will further support the government's initiatives to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially targeting SDGs 5.3 and 16.2. The focus will be on empowering children and working closely with government, civil society, private sectors and communities to bring an end to child marriage in Nepal.
Parvati may be young but that doesn’t stop her from envisioning a community that is child marriage-free. “Child marriage, initiated by parents and relatives, has reduced substantially here in Udayapur due to the increased awareness activities by various organisations. The major challenge now is underage boys and girls choosing to elope after falling in love,” she shares.