By Sharmina Manandhar
KATHMANDU, 25 March 2016 - Laxmi Raidas didn’t want to disappoint her parents.
“I got married so that my parents could live in the community with their heads held high,” the 16-year-old said.
Laxmi, who was married at the age of 14 to a boy two years her senior, hails from Kapilvastu, one of the 15 districts in Nepal with high child marriage prevalence. Following her marriage, she dropped out of school. She had just completed eighth grade.
In her community, it is customary to get one’s children married off as early as possible, she said. According to her, this happens for many reasons – from the perception that girls are a burden to the family to the traditional dowry system, wherein daughters who marry early to younger and less qualified grooms require lower payments.
Though she is married, Laxmi still lives with her parents and is involved in a Care Nepal-supported adolescent development programme being run in her community by a local non-government organization.
She has decided not to go live with her husband and in-laws until she is 20. She said she convinced her parents to let her do that by explaining them about the negative impacts of early and child marriage, especially on a girl’s health.
“I told my parents that by getting me married, they had unloaded their burden, but the burden has been transferred to me now,” she said.
The adolescent even managed to convince her in-laws to stop the marriage of her 14-year-old brother-in-law. Earlier, she had done the same for her 15-year-old cousin by explaining to her uncle that in addition to child marriage being detrimental to adolescents’ education, health and overall development, it is also illegal.
Laxmi, was one of 60 adolescents, who recently participated in the first ever Girl Summit in Nepal. The event, hosted by Nepal Government’s Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare (MoWCSW) with technical and financial support provided by DFID and UNICEF on 23 March 2016, was organized as a follow up to the first Girl Summit 2014, co-hosted by the UK government and UNICEF in London, where commitments were made to end child, early and forced marriage by several countries including Nepal.
Rt. Honourable President of Nepal Mrs. Bidhya Devi Bhandari inaugurated the Summit by lighting the traditional lamp with His Royal Highness Prince Harry of the United Kingdom looking on.
During the inauguration, HRH Prince Harry spoke with optimism about the opportunity opening up in Nepal where in the past decade the incidence of child marriage has seen a slide.
“I recognise that each country must find its own path; and that here in Nepal, this is a complex social challenge,” he said. “But it is one that the Government is tackling and is making progress in its hope of ending child marriage by 2030; it has fallen by 10 per cent over the last decade and the practice is now banned by law.”
“Therefore the focus can now turn toward enforcement and education.”
Talking about the need for more men to speak about this issue, he added, “Female leadership in Nepal now sets a powerful example, with women occupying the roles of President and Speaker. But the biggest reason for our optimism are the inspiring girls and boys in this room who care so much about changing attitudes towards young women in this country. I am proud to stand with you today.”
On the same occasion the Deputy Prime Minister of Nepal, and Minister of MoWCSW, Mr. Chandra Prasad Mainali pledged the Government's commitment to ‘minimise the menace of child marriage.’
“Despite the fact that there are legal, policy and programmatic interventions by the Government of Nepal against child marriage, they have not produced desired results,” he said. “To streamline initiatives the Government of Nepal has already prepared the National Strategy against child marriage, which has just been approved by the Government.”
Following the inaugural event, there were a range of sessions, activities and performances aimed at raising awareness of the progress Nepal has made on ending child marriage, and the challenges that remain.
Nearly half of all women in Nepal between the ages of 20 and 49 were married before their 18th birthday, of these, 15 per cent were not even 15 years old at the time of marriage. It was to end this harmful practice that infringes on the rights of girls as well as boys that the Government of Nepal in 2014 pledged to end child marriage by 2030. The Government has rolled out a special adolescent Girls Empowerment Programme to achieve this. The Girl Summit is part of the Government's commitment to end child marriage, and represents an important step in changing gender relations in the country and empowering women and girls to unlock their potential.
The event was a culmination of weeks of preparations, including district-level consultations and three-day pre-event workshop held in Kathmandu.
Held in 15 districts of Nepal, the consultations brought together adolescents girls and boys to discuss challenges and solutions for eradicating child marriage in Nepal and creating the conditions for every girl to reach her full potential. Interactions between these adolescents and community leaders were also held in these 15 districts, which provided additional platform for adolescent girls and boys to voice their issues. At the pre-event workshop, 60 adolescents, including Laxmi, compiled the views discussed in each district event and expressed them using creative artwork.
For Laxmi, the summit was once in a lifetime opportunity that further encouraged her to continue her education and keep working towards ending child marriage in her community, district and the entire nation.
“I learned a lot here,” she said. “I learned that education is the key to bringing any kind of change.”
“I have now decided to go back to school to complete my education.”