Nepal is predominately a patriarchal society where women have a much lower status than men. It is the girl children who suffer most from this discriminatory attitude. In a society, which has reportedly the highest rate of son preference in the world, girls are a liability from the time they are born. Sons continue the blood linkage; daughters do not.
The non-status of girl children as complete human beings makes its presence felt in many discriminatory practices within the family. Girls get less medical care and have less access to education and food than their brothers.
Child marriage in Nepal is not a new phenomenon. It is a socially established practice that has been carried on from generation to generation.
Poverty is a critical factor contributing to child marriage and a common reason why parents may encourage a child to marry. Where poverty is acute, a young girl may be regarded as an economic burden and her marriage to a much older - sometimes even elderly - man is believed to benefit the child and her family both financially and socially. However, in some regions of the world like Asia, religion is a significant factor in the continuity of child marriage.
Religion has sanctioned it, and society has ensured its continuity. Child marriage is an institution sanctioned by ancient Hindu laws and devotedly practiced by its followers. In the ancient Hindu scriptures of 400 to 100 BC, there are strict moral laws that enjoin the father to marry off his daughter at a very young age. These religious texts indicate that the best age for a girl to get married is between is 8 and 10.
In the ancient Hindu scriptures of 400 to 100 BC, there are strict moral laws that enjoin the father to marry off his daughter at a very young age. These religious texts indicate that the best age for a girl to get married is between is 8 and 10. Religion has projected marriage and motherhood as the be-all and end-all goal of every woman and there is strong pressure (not only from within the immediate family, but also from community members) to get daughters married as soon as possible. The pressure to maintain caste purity is intense.
The custom of child marriage seems to have been triggered off by the “Brahmin” clan, which is considered the highest caste according to Hindu law. Child marriage was usually understood to mean the marriage of two children, but it also included unmatched marriages. The highly gender discriminative Hindu marriage law permitted the marriage of a very young girl and a very old man. The Hindu puritans also gave full sexual freedom to the men: they could marry as many wives the wanted for pleasure and child rearing, but were very strict with women.
|Child marriage is a culturally acceptable tradition in Nepal.|
The tradition of child marriage is stronger in Indo-Aryan orthodox Hindu communities such as Parbatia (Bramhins, Chetris, etc.). It is less prominent among the Tibeto-Burman groups, such as the Kirati, Magar, Tamang, Sherpa and other hill/mountain groups. The practice is strongest among the Maithilis living in the Terai (southern plains).
The Nepalese Civil Code of 1963 fixed the legal age for marriage of girls at 16 and made polygamy and child marriage illegal. A girl can marry after the age of 16 years with the consent of her parents or guardians, and at 18 she can marry without their consent. These legal measures, however, are largely ineffective, especially in the rural villages. Almost a quarter of the total districts in Nepal have a mean age at marriage that is below the legal age, and none of the districts is devoid of the incidence of child marriage.
Child marriage is common in practice.