Greater spread of information and technology is often touted as the only surefire ticket to Nepal’s development. In fact, the notion that IT and national development go together is widely shared by the educated masses the world over. But this notion can be wrong. The internet brings a wealth of valuable information at your fingertips, but it also tubes pornography and bomb-making techniques right into your living rooms as well. The mobile phones make it easy to stay in touch with your loved ones at all times, but they also assist criminals share this modus operandi. Now it transpires that mobile phones can even abet child marriage. Take the case of Punga Thapa Bhote and Kamala Bogati of Toli VDC in Bajura district. Bhote, 16, and Bogati, 17, were casual acquaintances. That was before they exchanged their phone numbers. After the exchange, they soon started to spend hours talking to each other over the phone. Their young romance blossomed and before long the two ninth graders had decided to get married—without telling their families. They need not have bothered to keep it hush-hush. For when the word eventually got around, both the boy’s and girl’s families were jubilant.
Such stories of mobile-assisted child marriages have become a norm in this part of the country.
Data from 12 VDCs of Bajura district shows that 70 percent girls and boys there had married before they reached the legal marriageable age. According to local NGOs campaigning against child marriage in the region, most of these marriages result from ‘online love’. Despite child marriage being proscribed by law, the activists themselves can do little if whole communities not only condone but also actually encourage it. So, interestingly, even though five VDCs in Bajura—Toli, Chhatara, Kuldevmandu, Budhiganga and Bharahbisa—have been declared ‘child marriage-free’, these VDCs have some of the highest rates of child marriage anywhere in the country. For instance in the tiny Toli VDC alone, there were 81 child nuptials in the past one year. Local activists are concerned because these are also among the villages with some of the highest literacy rates in the district. Just as the spread of IT is not an unalloyed boon, education alone, it seems, is not enough to let go of entrenched beliefs and social practices.
The only way these entrenched beliefs may be changed is through a sustained awareness campaign on the dangers of child marriage. And it is the school-going children who should be made to understand that getting married so young, far from cementing the ‘love’ between two aching hearts, actually destroys their lives. Girls especially stop going to school after they get married and worse, more often than not, they get pregnant as soon as they marry. This wreaks havoc with their young mind and body, the psychological and physical trauma often staying with them their entire life.
Research shows that girls who marry young are also subjected to more violence in their husband’s homes compared to mature women who decide to get married. The country suffers too as a big section of its potentially productive workforce stays idle. If these horrendous truths about child marriage are repeatedly impressed on young minds, including through their school curriculum, even the callow minds of these children will think many times before they decide to voluntarily jump into the fire.