SURKHET DISTRICT, NEPAL – Anita B.K., now 17, was 13 years old when she married a 19-year-old man in Surkhet, a district in western Nepal.
Anita B.K.’s mother, Khagisara B.K., says that the groom’s profile spellbound the family, members of the Dalit or “untouchable” caste. He was financially stable, well-educated and also Dalit. And he didn’t have vices, such as drinking alcohol.
"We didn’t like to miss the chance,” Khagisara B.K. says.
But the marriage didn’t last long. The District Child Welfare Board and a campaign against child marriage by four nongovernmental organizations filed a case with the police against the marriage that same day at the local court. The court annulled the marriage because of the bride’s age.
Child marriage has been illegal in Nepal since 2001. Nepal’s Children’s Act considers children to be younger than 16.
Two weeks after the marriage, police arrested the man who performed the ceremony, the parents and the groom. The district court fined each perpetrator 1,000 Nepalese rupees ($12) and sentenced them to prison for six months.
They each paid an additional 1,000 rupees ($12) for an early release from jail.
Khagisara B.K. says that she and her husband, who served 17 days in jail, didn’t know that their daughter’s marriage was illegal.
Brahaman, the man who performed the marriage rites, requested to keep his first name anonymous for fear of repercussions from the police. The bride's family urged him to perform the marriage ceremony, says Brahaman, who is not an official priest but knows how to conduct weddings and sacred Hindu thread ceremonies, which qualify boys for marriage.
“So I could not spurn them,” he says.
Brahaman, who spent three days in jail, says he did not know that the marriage was illegal. If he knew, he says he would not have performed the ceremony.
Anita B.K. says that she is happy the marriage was anulled. Marriage at an early age hinders education and other social activities, she says.
While all caste communities in Surkhet practice child marriage to some degree, these marriages are most prevalent among the lower castes and indigenous communities. Many parents and priests still don’t know that child marriage is illegal. In response, local organizations formed a campaign to prevent these marriages by sponsoring educational programs and filing cases with the police. Authorities say that police investigate all cases, but reports are rare. Government officials say they still need to address the root causes for child marriage by increasing access to education and employment among lower-income families.
There were more than 1,000 child marriages reported in Surkhet from April 2008 to April 2011, according to Safer Society, one nongovernmental organization in Surkhet behind the campaign against child marriage.
Nearly 50 percent of these marriages came from the Dalit community, and more than 20 percent came from the Janajati community, which comprises Nepal’s indigenous communities.
Janajatis constitute nearly 40 percent of Nepal’s 26.5 million population, according to Nepal’s 2011 National Population and Housing Census. Dalits