Child Marriage in India and Nepal: "A Reality We Must Change"
Child marriage is a practice that involves marrying two individuals, at least one of whom is under 18 years of age. It is a violation of the human rights of children, as recognized by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which establishes the right to protection against all forms of exploitation, abuse, and violence, as well as the right to express their opinion and participate in decisions that affect them.
Child marriage has serious consequences for the lives and development of the children who experience it, as it deprives them of their childhood, freedom, and dignity. Furthermore, it exposes them to risks to their physical and mental health, such as complications in pregnancy and childbirth, sexually transmitted infections, domestic violence, depression, and suicide. It also prevents them from accessing education, work, and opportunities for personal and social development.
According to UNICEF, 45% of child marriages worldwide occur in South Asia, with India and Nepal being two of the most affected countries by this issue. In both countries, child marriage is influenced by cultural, social, economic, and religious factors that perpetuate this practice as a way to ensure the future of sons and daughters, preserve family honor, and prevent sexual violence.
Child Marriage in India
In India, child marriage has been prohibited by law since 1963, but it remains a deeply rooted ancestral custom in some rural areas and impoverished communities. It is estimated that 27% of girls are married before the age of 18, and 39% of teenage mothers give birth in this country. These girls are promised to older men and are forced to abandon their studies and assume domestic and sexual roles for which they are unprepared. Many of them suffer violence, abuse, complications in pregnancy and childbirth, and even death.
Child marriage in India has various causes, including:
Poverty: Many families see child marriage as a way to reduce their expenses or settle their debts by transferring the economic responsibility of their daughters to their husbands or in-laws. Additionally, marrying them off young avoids paying a higher dowry in the future.
Gender discrimination: Many girls are considered a burden or property to their families, who do not value their education or potential. Girls are expected to obey their parents and husbands and dedicate themselves to household and childcare duties.
Social and family pressure: Many girls are pressured by their parents or relatives to accept arranged or forced marriages, without considering their desires or aspirations. Sometimes, girls are threatened or punished if they refuse or attempt to escape.
Religious and cultural beliefs: Many communities follow traditions or rituals that promote child marriage, such as "Gauna," which involves sending the girl to live with her husband after her first menstruation. There are also sects or religious groups that promote child marriage as a form of salvation or purity.
Child Marriage in Nepal
In Nepal, the situation is similar. Despite the legal age for marriage being 20 years, one in three women gets married before reaching this age. Child marriage affects both girls and boys, as one in ten boys is also affected by this practice. The factors driving child marriage in Nepal include poverty, lack of opportunities, social and family pressure, and religious and cultural beliefs.
Child marriage in Nepal has various consequences, including:
Lack of education: Many girls and boys drop out of school to get married or work, limiting their chances of learning and developing their skills. According to UNICEF, 49% of women married before the age of 18 have no education, compared to 28% of those who married later.
Violation of sexual and reproductive rights: Many girls and boys are forced into sexual relationships or reproduction without their consent or adequate information. This increases the risk of contracting diseases, experiencing complications, or dying due to pregnancy and childbirth-related causes. UNICEF reports that 28% of adolescent girls between 15 and 19 years are pregnant or already mothers.
Domestic violence: Many girls and boys are victims of physical, psychological, or sexual violence by their partners or family members. This affects their self-esteem, mental health, and well-being. According to UNICEF, 41% of women between 15 and 49 years have experienced some form of violence from their partners.
What Can We Do to Change This Reality?
To change this reality, urgent and coordinated measures are needed by governments, international organizations, civil society, and communities themselves. At Eves Project 1040, we focus on helping children and families by supporting them to receive education and dream of a better future for their sons and daughters. You can view our project by clicking here.
Child marriage is a practice that we must eradicate as soon as possible, as it violates the human rights of children. Only then can we ensure a more just, equitable, and sustainable world for everyone.
Sources: UNICEF - Child Marriage Save the Children - Child Marriage in India Plan International - Child Marriage in Nepal Girls Not Brides - Nepal