A Girl Rebels: Ending child marriage, one case at a time

Monday 2 November 2015

It was a hectic day for a family at Dakha Kwadi Village Development Committee (VDC) in Pyuthan district – after all, their third eldest daughter was getting married.  The family was about to finish the feast sent over by the groom’s family. As per their tradition, the groom can only arrive for the marriage rituals after the girl's family finish eating the feast sent by them. But someone arrived at the location before the groom’s family did. Representatives of the local Swargadwari Child Club, students of Mandavi Higher Secondary School, local police, representatives of Kalika Development Center and local leaders had reached just in time to stop the wedding.

It turned out that the bride was merely 14 years old. The children lost no time in chanting slogans against this child marriage that was violating the girl’s child rights. Meanwhile, local police and community representatives reached the bride, whom the family had shut inside the house.

Remembering the incident, Seema says, "I didn't want to get married. Although I tried to convince my family members, they said that I wouldn’t be allowed to make the decision. I shared my feelings with Saraswati and Goma from our child club. That is why they came to my rescue with others on the wedding day. I clearly told the police that I was forced to get married, and I wanted to study instead. The police and local leaders talked to my parents and stopped the wedding."

Seema, who is now 15, is currently enrolled in grade eight. She wants to continue her studies and pursue a better career in the days to come.

But the story does not end here. Seema was lucky enough to be saved from a tragic fate that would have haunted her throughout life. However, around 33 percent of girls in Pyuthan district are forced to marry before they turn 18, which is the permissible age for marriage in Nepal.

To adolescent girls who try hard to break this norm, cases like the one faced by Seema give a lot of hope. A couple of months after this incident, an anti-child marriage campaign with the slogan "Let's support  integrated approach to end child marriage" was initiated at Arkha VDC, with a vision to expand it in other parts of the district.

"Although we are constantly dedicating ourselves to decrease child marriages, it was Seema's case that encouraged us to follow an integrated approach," says Kaushila Chand, Project Officer, AD and CM, Save the Children, "We piloted this approach from Arkha, for it is the most backward VDC of the district, with an alarmingly high child marriage rate of 18 percent."

The campaign, which was led by local youth clubs, gained wide popularity in the VDC. the clubs were strengthened with the support of Chief District Officer (CDO), Local Development Officer (LDO), local political party leaders, schools, health institutions and related stakeholders with Save the Children and partner organization Kalika Development Center. The campaign is now focused on declaring VDCs as  child marriage free ones.

Even as the campaign gains its pace, Seema’s father Jagat Bahadur is trying to change his behavior regarding his children. The man who once enclosed Seema inside a room to force her to marry is now quite open about sharing his daughter’s story in order to create awareness.

Meanwhile, local political leader Khim Bahadur Karki is elated at the behavioral change brought about by the campaign. Karki, who was also involved in stopping Seema’s marriage, says, "Our bold move is creating positive trend to stop child marriage in our area. Our initiation is showing its results."

Within a few months, the campaign now incorporates four other VDCs –Barjibang, Sari, Belbas and Gothibang. A month long intensive campaign will also be launched at Bhingri and Nayagaoon VDC from November 25, on the occasion of the 16 days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.  Likewise, Dakha Kwadi, Seema's VDC, is ready to launch the campaign led by District Child Welfare Board after related stakeholders complete training on Child Rights and Child Protection.

It is a positive beginning, but there are miles to go before child marriage is brought to a complere stop.

"I recently visited a health post of Gothibang, one of our working VDCs. I was saddened to find that 42 out of 52 deliveries last year was a result of teenage pregnancy," says Dhana Bhusal, Senior Regional Manager of Save the Children's Western Regional Office,  “Although our initiative is gaining momentum, we will need to expand the campaign to generate tangible impacts."

Written by Rupa Gautam, Media and Communication Officer