Virginity among key reasons for child marriage in Nepal

  • Jai Shah

“Everything happens for good. She died but saved her father’s five lakhs”, a man commiserates.

This was said about five years ago when people of my village were showing sympathy towards a poor family whose ten-year-old daughter died during an accident. The five lakhs mentioned earlier refers to an estimate of the amount of money for raising the girl and the cost of her wedding.

Jai Shah

According to End Violence Against Women, up to 50% sexual assaults are committed worldwide against girls under the age 16. Over 60 million girls worldwide are child brides, of which South Asia makes up a significant number of 31.3 million and sub-Saharan Africa of about 14.1 million.

According to Girls Not Bride Nepal organization, 1 in 2 girls is married before the age of 18 in South Asia. Bangladesh has the highest rate of child marriage in the region (52%), followed by India (47%), Nepal (37%), and Afghanistan (33%).

This is the veracity of rural parts of Nepal particularly in Madhesh, where a girl child is considered a ‘Burden’. Unfortunately, this is true even in the urban setting and highly educated societies. For example, it is rare for families to celebrate ‘Chhatiyar’ (a celebration done on the sixth day after the birth of the child) in Madhesh when they are blessed with a baby girl. In contrast, “Chhatiyar” is celebrated at a grand level when a son is born with accompanying feasts.

There are many drivers which lead to the practice of child marriage, some of them being poverty, social inequality, religious and customary laws, and gender-related stigmas and stereotypes, to name a few. Some men, even older ones, prefer to marry girls under the age of 18 with a hope to marry a ‘virgin’. Despite the fact that virginity is associated with hymen, a thin membrane that can be destroyed for many reasons like exercise, bicycle riding, high jump, long jump, dancing, and in many cases girls are born with little of this tissue, in many cases, the issue of girl’s virginity can be an excuse for domestic violence.

It’s the high time; people came out and rejected any forms of violence against girls. As it is said, charity begins at home; we need to start supporting our sisters, female cousins and friends in standing against child marriage. Parents and elder members of the family have great roles in nurturing their daughters and sons with gender-bias free thoughts. Let us try to root out gender-based stereotypes. After home, comes school as teachers play a crucial part in educating children and therefore they must instill in their students the practice of gender equity by education their students accordingly.

Nepal Government has committed to ending child marriages by 2030 as a part of the Sustainable Development Goals. The government should come up with a national level strategy and approach to tackle the issue of child marriage meritoriously. The civil society organizations should partner with government in bringing effective and positive results. Special projects should be initiated by the government of Nepal for providing educational assistance and other sustenance for girls of poor, marginal families.

The realism of rural places is different. Non-governmental organizations should reach out to the ground and create awareness about the negatives of child marriages. At the same time, awareness of legal consequences should be also given and enforced at the micro-level.

Recently, the world has marked the International Day of the Girl Child on October 11. I hope the pledges and outcry do not remain just a status on Facebook or a tweet on Twitter. I hope a day will come when no girls will be considered as ‘burden’ to their families and societies and their birth will be celebrated with Chhatiyar and feasts. Let us work together to end child marriage which will then be the true celebration of “International Day of the Girl Child every day.

The author is a social worker, writer, and youth activist. He has been steadily writing and advocating for social issues. He is currently the CEO of Pro Law, an organization working for the promotion of the rule of law in Nepal.