KATHMANDU, Dec 2: Despite sustained campaigns by government and non-government agencies to curb child marriage in the country, the latest National Census has revealed that a significant number of people were married before they reached a marriageable age.
As per the law amended in 2008, an individual is eligible to get marriage if he/she is 20 years old or above. Before that, the law described the right age to get married for male as 24 and female 18.
The census revealed that 60 percent of those surveyed said that they were married between 10 to 19 years of age. Among them, 70 percent females said they were married before they turned 20.
Of the total 13.8 million married population, more than 8 million said they were married when they were below 20, the prescribed age for marriage. Around 2.4 million males got married early, the instances of early marriage for female population is almost double that figure. More than 5.5 million female were married off at an early age.
Experts say that the scenario has not only revealed the existing gender bias but also the fact that men prefer younger women.
“Most men choose younger women as they want wives to look young and beautiful no matter how old they themselves are,” said Advocate Mira Dhungana, adding, “Also, in such marriages males have the upper hand in all decision making and easily dominate their spouses.”
The early marriage rate is high in rural areas at 86.6 percent. In rural areas, 97,694 girls were married when they were of below 10 years age, whereas the figure for males in the same age category stands at 19,531. More than 3.7 million females and 1.9 million males said they were married between 15-19 years.
Similarly, 0.9 million rural females were married between 10-14 years age, while the corresponding figure for males is 232,597.
The early marriage has been held responsible for Nepal´s mortality rate of 170 per 100,000 live births and family breakdowns. According to demographers, early and unmatched marriages would lead to social problems like separation and divorce.
“It would be better to upgrade marriageable age for both male and female to 24 to reduce the age gap,” said demographer Padma Prasad Khatiwada.
He added that increasing a girl´s legal age for marriage would ultimately protect them from exploitation.