Child marriage cases on the rise but police complaints scarce, say child activists

November 21, 2019

Durgalal KC, The Kathmandu Post,  November 21, 2019 

According to a recent survey, 46.9 percent of total marriages in the country are still child marriages.

Diksha BK, a teenager from Kapilvastu, says she is aware of the number of child marriages taking place around her. She is a member of a children’s club and says she wants to protest the practice.

“But society doesn’t support us,” she said. “Even if we report the cases to the police, they do not pay much attention to it. Local units are indifferent and don’t have any plan or policies to curb the practice.”

What’s more exasperating, BK says, is that those inciting child marriages are not punished. “The situation is frustrating,” she said.

“We have launched several campaigns against the practice but that hasn’t changed the people’s mindset,” said Sagar Tharu, who is also a member of the children’s club in Kapilvastu. “What we want is support from society, local units and the police.”

BK and Tharu were participants of a conference against child marriage that took place in the Capital on Wednesday, marking International Children’s Day. Many children speaking at the conference said that child marriage is still rampant in many parts of the country and is a major threat to children’s rights.

According to a survey by Good Neighbour International and Kidark Nepal, 46.9 percent of total marriages in the country are child marriages, including 69.7 percent love marriages and 30.26 arranged marriages. The survey was conducted among 1,032 teenagers and their parents from over a dozen districts.

“Many of our friends are getting married, but society hasn’t paid heed to stop it,” said Shreya Adhikari, another participant. “The efforts of the club only have proved insufficient.”

Geeta Chaudhary, former chair of Network of Children’s Club, Kanchanpur, said that child marriage is in practice in the veneer of various traditions and rituals. “In the Tharu community, one’s marriage is fixed the moment one takes birth,” Chaudhary said. “And the child in question is married off before she reaches legally marriageable age.”

Speaking at the conference, DIG Pitambar Adhikari of Children, Women and Senior Citizen Directorial of Police Headquarters said that the police receive only nominal complaints regarding child marriage. “Even though the cases are on the rise, we get only a few complaints,” said Adhikari. “If society is willing to speak up, then we can start punishing the illicit marriages.”

Child marriage has been illegal in Nepal since 1963. Two years ago, the government increased the legal age for marriage from 18 to 20. As per Article 173 of the Criminal Code, a person found guilty of either committing or arranging a child marriage is subject to a jail term of up to three years and a fine of Rs 30,000. However, in many cases, these legal provisions, aimed at protecting children from child marriage, have ended up being used to penalise them instead.