Ending child marriage in Nepal
UNICEF and UNFPA work together with adolescent girls and boys in their communities to empower and protect them.
Nepal has one of the highest rates of child marriage in Asia – for both girls and boys. Although the legal age of unions for both sexes is 20, more than a third of young women aged 20-24 report that they were married by the age of 18, and just over one in ten by 15. Nepali boys are among the most likely in the world to be child grooms. More than one in ten is married before they reach 18.
Child marriage is a human rights violation, restricting children’s choices, changing their course in life, and putting them at significant risk of abuse and violence. A UNICEF study found that one in three married girls in Nepal had been subjected to sexual violence by their husbands, while one in six reported physical violence.
A child’s education is also significantly affected, with married girls in Nepal 10 times more likely not to be in school than their unmarried peers and married boys often pressured to begin working to support the family. Girls’ right to health also comes under threat. Just over one in eight Nepali women had babies before the age of 18, which puts them at a higher risk of death or injury during childbirth.
The reasons behind child marriage in Nepal are complex. Poverty, the low value attached to daughters, and lack of access to education are contributory factors, while the caste system and patriarchal culture similarly play a role. It increasingly appears that teenagers are choosing their own partners and may even elope. In some cases, parents encourage adolescents to initiate their own marriage to avoid the high costs associated with dowry or wedding. Adolescents may also choose to elope as sexual expression outside of marriage is not acceptable, to avoid forced or arranged marriage or to escape from difficulties at home.
The devastating earthquakes of 2015 also led to fears that child marriage could increase. Studies in other countries have shown that in disasters or crises, as families lose homes and livelihoods, parents are more likely to marry off their children in a bid to protect them and secure their futures.