KATHMANDU, Sept 9: A group of child rights activists on Thursday questioned the effectiveness of government measures to end child marriage in Nepal, and claimed that about 37 percent of girls are married off before the age of 18. The legal age for marriage in Nepal is 20 for both sexes.
According to a report released by Human Rights Watch, the government has not taken sufficient measures to end the practice of child marriage, which can cause serious harm to both girls and boys and also affect their future.
Releasing a 118-page report, Heather Barr, a senior researcher at the US-based Human Rights Watch, said, “Nepal has the third highest rate of child marriage in Asia, with some efforts to end the practice and a long-promised but delayed national plan.”
She added that 10 percent of girls are marred before they are 15 while 11 percent of boys get married before 18. “Many children in Nepal are seeing their futures stolen by early marriage.”
The report based on interviews of 149 people including 104 married children, a majority of them girls, stressed that a majority of children who were married at a young age belong to the ethnic (non Brahmin-Chettri), Dalit, indigenous and strictly religious communities. This reflects the greater prevalence of child marriage among the marginalized and in communities that are low in the caste hierarchy.
According to the report, the major contributing factors behind child marriage are poverty, lack of access to education, child labor, social pressures, and the practice of dowry.
However, government officials are not inclined to wholly accept the findings of the report, arguing that there has been significant progress in combating child marriage in Nepal.
“It’s not true that the government is indifferent to the issue of child marriage as there has been a measure of progress in recent years, with the formulation of new policies and enactment of laws to address the issue,” said Dr Kiran Rupakheti, who heads the Child Protection Section at the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare.
A government survey in 2011 found that 28 percent of girls were married between the ages of 14 to 19. “Data released by Human Rights Watch are not based on government statistics,” he said. However, Human Rights Watch said the data came from UNICEF, the United Nation’s child-protection agency.
Talking to Republica, Dr Rupakheti said, “In 2011, Nepal stood at the 10th highest position in the prevalence of child marriage, but in 2015 it stood at 20th position, indicating clear progress.”
Rashmila Shakya of CWIN, the NGO, said that despite legal framework and constitutional provisions, lack of implementation has resulted in an up-tick in child marriages.
In 2014 Nepal had a goal to ending child marriage in Nepal by 2020 but in 2016 the goal was shifted to 2030. Nepal has the third-highest rate of child marriage in Asia, after Bangladesh and India.