Many years ago, when we started the campaign to end child marriage in Kalikot district in mid-west Nepal, I remember one particular incident. Bipana was 16, in seventh grade and was just about to marry a boy from her village. When we heard the news, along with our civil society partner staff and the police, we visited her home and convinced her parents that she should go back to school instead of getting married. On that particular day, I still vividly remember a team of 20 people succeeded in stopping Bipana’s marriage as a child., When I look back now, I am glad we did what we did – Bipana has recently completed grade 12 and is one of the few people to do so from her village and what’s more she has a job now. Her parents who threatened me back then when I stopped Bipana’s marriage; do not hesitate to thank me whenever we meet..
That day we managed to stop one child marriage but in Kalikot, the rate of child marriages is alarmingly high. According to a survey conducted in 12 VDC (village development committees) by Save the Children and its partner NGO KIRDARC, 59% marriages involved people under the legal age of 20 (563 among 949). Further breakdown of this figure showed that 14% of marriages involved children between the age of 10-14, 42% between the age of 16-18, and 44% between the ages of 19-20. Among the VDCs surveyed, Poimahadev and Raku had very high number of under-age marriages reportedly 86 and 83 % respectively. And there is a changing dynamics in the factors leading to early and child marriage. In the past, marriages were fixed by parents while these days the trend has changed. Children aged 16-18 tend to find their own match and run away to get married.
The Nepal country program has launched a campaign under its protection program to reduce and ultimately stop early and child marriages. The police play a crucial role in our campaign against child marriage and there can be no second opinion that all initiatives against child marriage need collaboration. This year we trained 30 police personnel on child rights and protection issues including how best to handle sensitive issues concerning children. This was certainly the start of confidence building measures that helped us engage the law enforcement agency in our work. After the training, the District Police in Kalikot drew a 16-point annual plan on their role to reduce and stop child marriage. The police plan was shared with all police posts in the district. The plan included organizing interactions on the issue of child marriage, raising awareness about legal provisions, door to door campaigns, working with village child protection committees and child clubs, and regular monitoring of places and communities where incidences of child marriage was high
The annual plan serves as a directive on action to be taken by the police to minimize early marriage. As part of the engagement under the plan, police personnel also inform the community about their plan in rural municipalities and carry out awareness raising activities, which does intensify during wedding season.
There are also other actors who come in to play their part in the campaign including the media. There are four local FM stations that are airing anti child marring message round the clock. They also broadcast radio shows around this topic. Village Child Protection Committees are joining hands with child clubs and the police to organize public debates as part of the community outreach program. And then there are initiatives taken by children themselves; children’s court is a unique approach to debate the issue of child marriage in their community. I will share more about this in my next blog.
In parts of Kalikot where we work, Save the Children supported para-social workers and Local Resource Person (local volunteers) are actively campaigning against child marriage. Whenever there is authentic or hear-say talk about a child marriage in their area, the para-social workers and local volunteers have a system set up through which they simultaneously send a text message to the District Superintendent of Police (DSP), our district coordinator and partner district coordinator in order to act quickly to look into the information at hand and action if necessary to stop a marriage.
Not all initiatives are successful to prevent a marriage from taking place but I feel we must be positive. A few weeks back, a young active member of the child club, a 16 year old girl eloped with a 20 year old boy. Our Local resource person reported her missing to the DSP. The police team coordinated with the neighboring district police, and managed to bring the boy and the girl back home. Bringing back these children is not enough. They can easily face discrimination and stigma after running away from home. Thus, we work with the VCPC and child clubs to create a safe environment for them to go back home, rejoin their families, go back to school and return back to being children which are challenging calls but never the less fulfilling for me. In this particular case gratifying because the 16 year old girl x is back home with her family and has gone back to school to continue with her education. I enjoy my work and I could not have been more motivated to be part of the campaign to stop child marriage.
It is very rewarding to see the police become sensitive toward issues that affect children in kalikot district. The action from the police force is also child sensitive; they adopt child sensitive methods to intervene and are also instrumental in raising awareness among parents and young people.
So far as part of Save the Children’s NORAD supported “Sahayatra: Project (mutual), nine VDCs have been declared child marriage free. However the reality is also that the number of child marriage is still very high in Kalikot. The new devolution of power to local bodies this year following the local elections after 20 years gives us a unique opportunity to create significant change in local communities – advocate for local level action oriented approaches on ending child marriage in the district. In the days to come, I believe the focus should be working with children to build their life skill so that children are able to face challenges that come with adolescence.