Jai Kumar Sah
“Everything happens for good. She died but saved her father’s 5 lakhs”, a man commiserates.
This was a part of conversation of around 5 years ago when people of my villages were showing sympathy towards a poor family whose daughter of 10 years died during an accident. In the aforementioned conversation, a villager said that the girl saved 5 lakhs of his father after her death. It signifies that amount of money to be spent for that girl in raising her and for her marriages estimates 5 lakhs.
According to End Violence Against Women, up to 50% sexual assaults are committed worldwide against girls under the age 16. Over 60 million girls worldwide are child brides in which South Asia contributes in a significant number which 31.3 million and sub-Saharan Africa contributes about 14.1 million.
According to Girls Not Bride Nepal organization, 1 in 2 girls are married before the age of 18 in South Asia. Bangladesh has the highest rate of child marriage in the region (52%), followed by India (47%), Nepal (37%) and Afghanistan (33%).
This is the veracity of rural parts of Nepal particularly in Madhesh, a girl is considered as ‘Burden’. We accept or not but this is the harsh reality of the rural areas of Nepal and even in urban setting in many cases. Girls are always treated as a burden in our society. I rarely see people celebrating ‘Chhatiyar’ (a celebration done on the sixth days when a child is born) in Madhesh when they are blessed with a baby girl in the family whereas I see people celebrating “Chhatiyar” at grand level when a son is born. Many times, the injustice with girl started before she is born in this world.
Many men even so called literate men prefer to marriage girl of below 18 and 16 years, just because they will get ‘virgin’ girl. Yes, this is true and they are encouraging child marriages.
There many drivers which ultimately lead to child marriages such as poverty, social inequality, religious and customary laws, stigmas and stereotypes, and many more. Child marriages eventually point towards domestic violence. Here, I will shade light on another reason for child marriages. Many men even so called literate men prefer to marriage girl of below 18 and 16 years, just because they will get ‘virgin’ girl. Yes, this is true and they are encouraging child marriages. Regardless of the fact that it isn’t necessary the virginity is lost during sexual intercourse only. The virginity is associated with a hymen, a thin membrane which is located at the female’s private part. The hymen can be destroyed for many reasons like exercise, bicycle riding, motorcycle riding, high jump, long jump, dancing, involving in sports, and in many cases it is found that some girls are born with so little hymenal tissues that it seems like they don’t have hymen at all. In many cases of domestic violence, girl’s virginity has been the issue for the violence. I was too shocked when at first I came to know about this reason for child marriages in many parts of Madhesh. While interacting with many of my friends and few strangers, I came to be sure about this level of hypocrisy existing today.
We can talk days and nights about problems and issues, and yet they won’t be finished. It’s the high time; people should come out in support of any kinds of violence against girl furiously in result oriented actions like participating in activism and volunteering in anti-child marriage and anti-violence campaigns.
As it is said, charity begins from home; we should start supporting our sisters, cousins and friends in standing against child marriage. Parents and elder members of the family have great roles in nurturing their daughter and son with bias free. Let’s try to root out stereotypes of our friends regarding girls. Teachers have crucial part in educating children with true knowledge by coming out of all the indoctrination.
Nepal Government has committed in ending child marriages by 2030 as a part of the Sustainable Development Goals. The government should come up with a national level strategies and approaches to tackle the issue of child marriage meritoriously. The civil society organizations should partner with government in bringing effective and positive results. Special projects should be initiated by government of Nepal for providing educational assistance and other sustenance for girls of poor families.
The realism of rural places is different. Non-governmental organizations should reach out to the ground and make people aware about the deleterious upshot of child marriages. At the same time, awareness on legal consequences should be also given as it is illegal to get married before 20 in Nepal.
While the world is celebrating International Day of the Girl Child, I hope the pledges and outcry don’t remain just a status on Facebook and Twitter. With this, I hope, a day will come when girl, the most beautiful creation of god, won’t be considered as a ‘burden’ and her life won’t be calculated in pecuniary. Let’s celebrate Day of the Girl Child every day. Happy International Day of the Girl Child!
Sah, a Social Worker, writer and Youth Activist, has been steadily writing and advocating for Social issues. He is currently CEO of Pro Law, an organization working for promotion of the rule of law in Nepal.