PYUTHAN, Jan 2: Ward 3 of Mallarani Rural Municipality was the first ward in Pyuthan district to declare itself as a child marriage-free zone. Last year, the locals declared the ward as child marriage-free last December. But the situation now has become just the opposite. The ward is on the top of the list of wards with the highest number of child marriages in the district.
About a year ago, the campaign against child marriage reached every household of the ward with the message 'marriage only after 20'. Even children and youths were involved in the rally and household campaign. Parents of the ward also pledged to support the campaign.
But things changed in less than a year of the campaign. The ward recorded two dozen child marriages in just 30 days (mid-November to mid-December) this year.
Children of the villages have become prone to eloping with their classmates well before the age for marriage, according to ward 3 chair Giriraj Paudel who thinks that social media has added to increasing the cases of child marriage.
“Many children studying in the same school fall in love and they elope. Although we also raise awareness against child marriage in schools, it has not been effective,” added Paudel.
Just in the month of December, 2017, over two dozen cases of child marriages took place in Mallarani-3. However, only six cases were registered at the ward office. After registering the cases, the office has been arbitrating and returning the children to their respective families.
Gopal Roka and Mina Kumari Shrestha of the ward eloped on November 22, 2017. Their case of child marriage was filed at the ward office and the couple has been handed over to their respective guardians after telling them that they cannot live together until both of them reach 20 years of age.
Similarly, local children Resham Gharti and Purnakala Gharti also eloped to get married on December 7. The ward office also intervened in their case and forced them to live separately, handing them over to their families.
Like them, there are around half a dozen underage couples from the same locality who were separated by the office.
Over half a dozen children's clubs in the district are actively working on the campaign against child marriage. Although they are playing an important role in preventing child marriages, their efforts are not enough. Millions of rupees in the campaign are being wasted due to ineffectiveness of such campaigns.
“Lack of knowledge about legal actions against child marriage is the main reason child marriages are not under control,” said advocate Bhegraj Bhatta. “Locals have heard that action is taken against child marriage but they do not know any instance where such action has been taken. It makes them believe that the legal provision against child marriage is not implemented.”
Local units, police administration and various non-government organizations have been working against child marriages. They said the retention of traditional mindset, misuse of social media, and ineffective education system in schools are the major challenges in their campaign against child marriage.