Suntali Thami, now an 18 years old young mother, grew up under the clasp of poverty that deprived her from her rights to education. A daughter of penniless farmer, Suntali was sent to the capital city, Kathmandu, at the tender age of 13 to make some good bucks. Suntali who worked as dish cleaner in K-town, fall into the liking of a boy working in the same hotel. Despite knowing about different options, she accepted the proposal and got married at the age of 14.
Soon after getting married, she went to her husband’s home at Sundrawati Village, Dolakha District, a home made up of mud standing on a green-terraced mountain that has dirty floors and no electricity. She soon discovered her husband’s home having just few farming tools, metal pots, a hand-held leather drum that belonged to Sukha Bahadur Thami, her father-in-law and shaman of the community.
A newly wedded Suntali thought her married life to be like heaven but realized it to be ‘wrong’. Despite her willingness, she had to bear the pain of forced sex every night, sometimes in the day time. Suntali, unknown about the biological process following the intercourse, became pregnant against her will and gave birth to a baby, Durga. Her life took the structure of additional soreness when she came to know that her husband is having an affair with another woman in K-Town. Despite all this soreness, Suntali is living at her house along and wishing if her husband who now has three wives will return to her soon.
Suntali Thami is just a representing character among many who gets married before the age of 20. According to the report ‘The State of the World’s Children 2011-UNICEF’, Nepal holds 11th position in the ranking of the countries that have higher prevalence of child marriage. At time of Nepal Health Demographic Survey 2011, 55 percent of women aged 25-49 were found to have got married before getting 18 years old. The survey shows the girls in Nepal marry at a median age of 17.5 years, which were 17.2 years in 2006 and 16.4 years in 1996.
In Nepal, social, cultural and religious facets have become responsible for child marriage to happen. The lack of education, tradition, religion, family conflicts, economic structure and geographical division has deep rooted relation for promoting child marriage. Religious traditions like Bahuna and Dhan Khana has hoisted its flag in Terai region. For an instance, there is a belief among the people that if a girl gets married before her menarche, she is considered to have donated 7 thousand and eight hundred cows but if not, she is considered to have killed same number of cows.
Rather than understanding marriage as unison of two souls, marriage, in Nepal, is taken as a social institution that grants the freedom of having sex, no matter what their ages are. With such marriages at an early age, especially the girls become compelled to accept harmful practices that can harm their health in near future.
‘Girls are not physically well developed and their internal pelvic muscles and cavities are also not matured enough to bear pressures while giving birth, thus, experience prolong labour during delivery, postpartum haemorrhage, rupture of uterus and in the long term, they experience uterus prolapse, obstetric fistula, cervical cancer and other social and economic problems,’ says Dr. Khem Bahadur Karki, Former Executive Director of Society for Local Integrated Development Nepal SOLID Nepal and Member Secretariat, Girls Not Bride.
Early marriages increase the changes of causing negative health impacts among mothers and newborns, including infant and maternal mortality because maternal mortality rate is higher among the mother below the age of 20 than the mothers who are above 20 years of age. According to the recent report published by Ministry of Health and Population, maternal mortality ratio is 170 per 100 thousand live births in Nepal.
With marriage at an early age, the married couples pressurised by domestic responsibilities are also compelled to discontinue their education meaning lack of information and well-paid jobs. Ultimately, the unemployment or unprofitable jobs pushes them to the den of poverty making them unable to offer best for their family needs. The lack of knowledge brings lack of information regarding safe health behaviours resulting to frequent health problems.
Recognizing that child marriage is a curse for every adolescent boys and girls, Different government bodies, I/NGOs, CBOs and other types of local bodies are continuously fighting against the social crime. Many organizations have formed different youth groups, peer educators, yuva chautaris, adult mentors, mothers’ groups, parents’ groups and etc to advocate and organization different programs to disseminate information about the negative consequences of child marriage. Similarly, many outreach workers are deployed to undertake outreach activities like door-to-door campaigns, rallies, one-to-one interactions and etc.
Among many, Society for Local Integrated Development Nepal implemented 5 years long project in Nepal, namely, Lalitpur, Nuwakot, Rasuwa, Sindhupalchowk and Dolakha. The project conducted various programs in different levels in a bid to end child marriage.
Speaking about the project, Dr. Karki says, “We took this project into intervention with a target of approaching a population of total 5 Lakh in the project districts. We have successfully reached 60,000 young people in person.” He adds, “Among them, around 8,000 young people are formed into a group and are still conducting various programs to bring sustainable changes in their societies.”
The program helped to create awareness regarding the benefits of delayed married, school retention and shaping a better future of young people. Now, 27 Youth Information Centres are actively functioning and 504 youth groups are formed. Around 8,000 young people involved in the project are now undertaking different activities including saving money for YICs management, holding group discussions regarding sexual and reproductive health and undertaking different activities to discourage early marriage.
Dipendra Adhikari, YIC In Charge at Bageshwori YIC, Nuwakot shares, “YIC have become the best place for us to come in togetherness and discuss about our problems and doing this, it has become easy for us to help each other, importantly to defend marriage proposals.”
Gita Thami, a resident of Piskar VDC, Sindhupalchowk, says, “Many people placed marriage proposals before me when I was studying in class six but I was successful in rejecting the proposal. I would like to thank GMSP (Grahmin Mahila Srijansil Pariwar), a partner NGO of SOLID Nepal, to educate and persuade me.”
Now the project has been ended but its efforts are still alive. Various authorities are also still advocating about the issues at different levels. The project had provided ToT (Training of Trainers) to 125 teachers of around 119 schools that have helped a lot in developing a conducise class environment to let the students and teachers speak freely about the issues related to sexual and reproductive health. Such discussions have become helpful in preventing early marriages and developing good understanding about sexual attitudes among young people. Similarly, schools have now become youth friendly. In this context, around 800 young people are responsibly contributing in advocating about early marriages as Peer Educators.
“Teachers are now open while teaching the lessons regarding sexual and reproductive health and because of this, we have gained a better understanding about the issue and understand the disadvantages of getting married at an early age,” says Muna KC, a young girl at Bhirkot VDC, Dolakha.
Child marriage is not an epidemic; it can not only be prevented but can be brought into an end. For this, united efforts from various sectors should be enacted.