Nepal has made important steps over the past few years to promote gender equality, but the country still has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world. 41% of Nepalese girls are married before the age of 18.
The 2015 earthquakes devastated the country and left girls and women in an increasingly vulnerable position, leading to fears that child marriage rates may increase over the next year.
Poverty is both a cause and consequence of child marriage in Nepal. Girls from the wealthiest families marry 2 years later than those from the poorest, who are more likely to be seen as an economic burden, drop out of school and earn little money.
Food insecurity plays a key role too. Nepalese families that do not have enough food to eat are more likely to marry their daughters at a young age to ensure their security and decrease the financial burden. One study shows that 91% of people who were food secure married over the age of 19.
Dowry is also common practice in many communities and is particularly strong in the Terai region, with parents marrying their daughters off at a young age to avoid a higher dowry price.
CARE have highlighted that trafficking, whereby criminals prey on orphaned children and parents, is part of the reason for the rise in child marriage rates after the 2015 earthquakes.
Since 2010, the legal age of marriage is 20 for both men and women, or 18 with parental consent, according to the Nepalese Country Code.
The law states that punishment for child marriage is imprisonment for up to three years and a fine of up to 10,000 rupees (£102). Yet reports suggest that this law is rarely enforced.
There has been a great deal of progress in Nepal over the past 3 years with a clear government commitment to ending child marriage and civil society cooperation.
The Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare is currently developing Nepal’s first national strategy on child marriage in collaboration with UNICEF Nepal and Girls Not Brides Nepal.
However, the post-earthquake and post-fuel crisis environment has meant progress is slow and the national strategy has been delayed.
* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old.
* According to UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children 2015.