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Last Updated: Sun, 18.11.12 10:03

Early marriage affecting girl's education, health

An annual preliminary report of the Ministry of Health and Population showed that at least 23 percent girls in the country get married at the age of 15-19 years as against the legal age of 20 for both sexes, said Dr Praveen Mishra, secretary of the ministry, on Saturday.

This represents small progress compared with last year’s 25 percent, Dr Mishra said.

The annual report regarding child marriage rates of 2012 is expected to be released early next year.

“Early marriage needs to be stopped because it not only affects girl’s education but also their health and overall career development in the future,” Dr Mishra said in an interview with Xinhua.

“Our biggest challenge is the family’s attitude towards educating their daughters,” he added.

“We certainly need to strongly lobby against early marriage, but we are hampered by a very poor monitoring system to implement the existing law,” said Suman Tuladhar, education specialist at the United Nations Children’s Fund, Nepal (Unicef-Nepal).

Still many rural families in Nepal marry off their daughters at the age of 11-13 because their parents think that the older a girl gets the higher the dowry will be.

“Child marriage is the extreme denial of children’s rights. Many girls suffer from abusive marriages as they are married to older boys,” said Dibya Dawadi, deputy director general at the Department of Education under the Ministry of Education.

After marriage, such girls rarely come back to school and even if they do, their performance are recorded very poor, Dawadi said, adding that early marriage negatively impacts the girls’ self confidence.

Child marriage not only defied them from their education, it often made them vulnerable to a cycle of discrimination, domestic violence and abuse, said Helen Sherpa, social activist and member of the World Education, an international nongovernmental organisation. Tuladhar said the Unicef’s world report on child marriage in 2011 showed that 51 percent of Nepalis get married in their early age.

Nepal’s 2006 demographic and health survey found that among Nepalese women of the 20-49 age groups, 60 percent were married by the time they reached 18.

Early marriage changes a girl’s life options because parents no longer want to invest in “someone else’s property,” said Kaman Singh Chepang, an activist from the Nepal Chepang Association, an NGO working for the Chepang community in Nepal.

Dire poverty and lack of government initiatives to get girls to school were among reasons for early marriage, Chepang said.

If child marriage is to be eradicated there should be close coordination among government sectors dealing with health, education, poverty and culture, he said.