Nepal has high incidences of child marriages. Save the Children Nepal team has been crusading on child marriage campaigns for the past 6 years. The success is beginning to show - This is an interview with BK Bale, Project officer for Kalokit district for Child Right Governance and Child protection team in Nepal . Their plan is to systematically reduce child marriage by 10% each year which will help us achieve the 0% child marriage by 2030.
Q) What does your team do to reduce child marriage in Nepal – It would be interesting to know the success model so far which can inspire further action in the rest of the country.
Bale - In Kalikot our team has been working relentlessly to raise awareness on child marriage in two levels – in community level we raise awareness among parents and children about the negative impact of child marriage while at the district level we work with the police, media, lawyers/courts and related stakeholders on how we can respond and prevent child marriage. For instance, in Kalikot we have our local resource person and child clubs who report about any child marriage incidence they hear of to the police who then leaves immediately to stop the marriage. If the marriage has already taken place then the police works towards dissolving the marriage. In two months 22 child marriages have been reported and stopped by the police.
Child clubs also state that the police at times overlook such incidences. However, after dialogues with the DSP he strictly directed all police personal to not overlook a single incident of children marriage. They now also visit communities and villages where they explain the community why one should not do child marriage. Media on the other hand works towards getting out stories of child marriage and pressuring the related stakeholders on the issue which also helps in raising awareness.
The team in Kalikot is also working closely with the local religious leaders who are responsible for conducting marriages in the communities while also working with the newly elected local bodies. They act as local police who work towards reducing child marriage. Recently, Lalu Village Development Committee was declared as child marriage free in Kalikot.
Q) To achieve the 0% child marriage goal, what do you think are the biggest challenges for Nepal to scale this success model?
Bale - Though intensive child marriage awareness activities are being carried out and the legal age for marriage has been increased to 20 many children tend to get married on their own. The trend of love marriage among children are growing in trend making it difficult to take any action due to their age limit. They cannot be punished nor can be put behind bars so the only thing that police can do is separate them. However, they continue to meet each other and eventually have children which results in various problems. When parents arrange marriages, the police can intervene and dissolve the marriage but when children get married on their own taking legal action is difficult as they are under age for legal action. Therefore, the trend of love marriage has been growing mainly due to exposure to social media and electronic devices such as mobile phones.
Poor economic condition is another challenge when it comes to curbing child marriage. Boys tend to quit their education and migrate to India to earn money and support their family – when they come back they are unable to rejoin school so they end up getting married and having children. Girls on the other hand are bound by household chores and responsibility of their family members/siblings so they think it is better to get married rather than suffer within their own families. And parents too think it is easier to have girls married because they go to somebody else’s house which lessens the burden of one member in the family.
Q). Tell us about how you are involving general public in this exercise and how they have reacted to this ?
Bale - To involve the general public we play radio jingles that carries messages of child marriage, it effects and impacts. We also do public hearings known as ‘Role Model Couple’ where a couple who married as children as well as couple who married when they were adults come together in one forum and share their experience. This helps general public understand the consequences of child marriage and when examples are from within their community they tend to take it more seriously.
We also have a forum for children debate – in this forum children along with related stakeholders such as the police and local government bodies are invited for a debate with the children. The children ask them questions about the issues they face and make the stakeholders accountable and make them commit towards taking action to prevent the issue.
Local level cultural programs and street dramas by child clubs are also done which showcases the pros and cons of child marriage. In these programs community people also participate which generates awareness among general public.
Through these activities the general public are not only aware about the negative impact of child marriage but many of them also commit to never conduct any child marriage and also commit to report any cases of child marriage they come across in their communities to the police.
Q) What can we do to inspire more Nepalese public to join this movement and go for 0% child marriage cases for all of Nepal?
Bale - We have been running the Anti Child Marriage Campaign in Kalikot since 2010 and so far 10 Village Development Committees have been declared as child marriage free. Through our journey of six years running this campaign we have learned that it is important for social stakeholders to own this issue and think of it as their own.
Child marriage is not just Save the Children’s issue or an organizational issue it is a societal issue that everyone should work towards eradicating.
We have learned that to reduce child marriage we should work closely with religious leaders who are responsible for conducting marriages and we should raise awareness among them too. On the other hand we have realized that door to door campaigns are more effective than public programs. However, these door to door campaigns should be done in a team of – police personal, media people, local government bodies and related stakeholders to make it more effective and also to rest the ownership of the campaigns among them.
In addition, we also think that children should be given more life skill trainings that will help them take better decisions for their life. In these trainings they should also be informed about violence against children and how child marriage can affect one’s life.
Q) So what are the plans for 2018 ?
Bale - In 2018 we look forward to working very closely with the newly elected local government bodies. In 2018 we would want them to own this issue and technically support them in making their own plans and strategies as well as support them in implementing them. We want to create a strong link between the general public, police and the local government to take this campaign for intensely.
We also plan on reducing child marriage by 10% each year which will help us achieve the 0% child marriage by 2030.