Kathmandu. A teen who had been involved in campaigns against child marriage until a few years ago got married. He was working to ensure that, as a National Youth Network member, he was there arguing against child marriage and for education. But after a few days, the network was astonished to learn via TikTok that he had married a female while they were both minors.
Bijaya Raj Joshi, the network’s president, reveals, “He was in a relationship. When the family learned, they worried that the small village’s residents might mistake their relationship for premarital sex. The parents suggested they could elope, and they did so out of fear of the reaction.
Even though child marriage was made illegal in Nepal in 1963, it is nevertheless common in some regions of the nation. Today, almost 60 years later, stakeholders claim that early and child marriages have transformed the character of these relationships. Instead of being the result of uneducated or low-income families forcing their children to get married, as was the case in the past, they are now the result of educated and aware teenagers choosing to elope or get married early.
Stakeholders argue that the government needs to be more proactive and vigilant in its efforts to control the issue given that such a trend is being reported throughout Nepal.
The shift in thinking
A young activist against child marriage named Shishir Sapkota claims that in the past, individuals used to get married according to custom in front of a mandap and that it was both socially and legally acceptable. Young people today are simply eloping and cohabitating. The issue becomes more challenging as a result.
According to the stakeholders, 60% of girls and 10% of boys continue to participate in this social sin in Nepal, the second Asian country with the highest rate of early and child marriage cases. Outside of Kathmandu, these issues are more common, and certain villages are more affected than others.
Early weddings had a long history in our culture. According to Sapkota, the key member of the National Youth Network, “Traditions, good actions, and reduced dowry have all contributed to the majority of girl children being married off. However, many youngsters today are opting to elope and stay in a live-in situation. It indicates that it is more difficult to detect and manage.
Joshi claims that this pattern is not a result of young people not knowing the laws and consequences of child marriage.
Teenage romance and the factors that surround it, according to Sapkota, are another explanation. “They develop a relationship, whether online or in person, and they want to elope. On the other hand, as was already mentioned, some parents encourage their kids to run away.
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Reasons for the strange decision
In the past, child marriages were brought on by financial difficulties, dowry problems, customs, and traditions. However, nowadays, it’s the kids who decide to get married. However, Nirijana Bhatta, the coordinator of Girls Not Brides Nepal, notes that there may be some real reasons for such circumstances as well. “It’s possible that they aren’t receiving the stability, love, and care they need from their families. Since they are looking for that outside of their families, it is the root of all the issues.
She also holds the Nepali culture responsible for elopement because many communities engage in it under the names rodhi and jhamre, among other names.
In addition to this, there are further underlying issues that are a part of the issue. “There is still misunderstanding about what constitutes child marriage,” claims Sapkota. Additionally, there is a dearth of legal knowledge among the public about parental approval of child marriage.
It indicates that there is a dearth of legal knowledge among the populace. “People are aware that it is an unlawful act and a social harm. But many people are unaware that it is illegal to attend such a function as well as to get married too quickly or to force someone into such a marriage. Nevertheless, we observe that even local authorities attend these events.
Whatever the case, the stakeholders are aware that information by itself cannot resolve the issue. Additionally, activists have struggled to get security officers to take action or file a report while dealing with them. “We have reported certain situations to the police, despite not being our job. However, in certain instances because to their political or family connections, they choose not to pursue the spouse. In one instance, after the police turned the kids over to their parents, the kid just ran away from home the next day, according to Joshi.
Although Nepal has laws against child marriage on paper, putting those laws into practice is difficult. “There are several local units, including Panauti, where I’m from, that have been certified kid-friendly and have the funding and rules as well, but it’s not the same in practice on the ground,” adds Sapkota.
The lack of data
Joshi hypothesizes that the cause of this is a lack of data to support policy revisions, implementation, budget allocation, and youth mobilization. “For the past year or two, we have only been operating on a national scale. We don’t have any hard statistics, but the government lacks this information as well because they haven’t done any independent investigation.
Joshi’s assertion is backed up by Bhatta, who adds, “Our organization conducted a survey back in 2014 and concluded that there were more forced marriages taking place. The most recent survey, which was conducted in 2021, was conducted in 2018. However, no comprehensive or thorough investigation of the issue has been conducted by the government.
She claims that the post-federalization change in the government structure prevented the 2014 study’s recommendations from being adopted. The researcher continues, “We required more study to match the new structure, but that has not been achievable.
In response to this, Girls Not Bride and Restless Development conducted a joint survey in Nepal this year with 1,037 participants aged 10 to 30 from each of the country’s seven provinces. Recently, the findings were made public.
6.28 percent  of the respondents in the entire survey sample were married, including two divorcees. Of these, 33.84 percent  experienced child marriages and early marriages. 4.6%  of them [the group] had elopement cases. In the married respondents, 27% of married men and 48% of married women were under the age of 20, demonstrating that girls are still more likely than boys to marry young.
Analyzing the survey’s findings, it was found that more than 47% of the girl respondents’ early or child marriages were arranged with their consent, with the social context of difficult financial circumstances, limited educational opportunities, and peer or family pressure acting as motivating factors. Similarly, 53.5% of those who were married reported doing so voluntarily in similar social settings.
Additionally, their study reveals that the government has made an effort to address the issue through budget allocation, awareness raising initiatives, the creation of laws, the mobilization of youth networks, and meetings or discussions with the group.
The next move is
The representatives of youth clubs and networks presented an 11-point charter pledging increased vigilance on their side to eliminate child marriage in light of the survey results and the discussion among them. To develop the charter, over 30 young people from the network in Nepal came together.
They have emphasized the need for periodic surveys on child marriage and early marriage in addition to the lack of study and research on the subject in order to effectively implement programs, policies, and plans with the necessary revisions.
The group emphasized that the government should keep the public informed about child marriage, its consequences, the need of education, and the need to develop the capacity of the stakeholders.
And last but not least, they want to make it simpler to file complaints about child marriage and early child marriage. Joshi adds that if the authorities can successfully prosecute a small number of cases, strictly enforce the rules, and punish the offenders, that will serve as a deterrent to other people.
Bhatta argues that more stability should be brought to all levels of government before anything else. If it is ensured, she hopes that local authorities would analyze the issue more thoroughly and tailor solutions in collaboration with the institutions actively engaged in this field.