On March 23, the Nepal government will convene a “Girl Summit,” with speakers including the country’s president and the United Kingdom’s Prince Harry, a follow-up to the first summit held in London in July 2014, launching a global effort to end child marriage and female genital mutilation.
Child marriage is an urgent issue in Nepal, where 41 percent of girls marry before age 18 and 10 percent are married by 15. Boys also often marry young in Nepal.
In late 2015, Human Rights Watch interviewed married children in 14 of Nepal’s 75 districts. Many married girls interviewed had never attended school, often because they worked from a very young age. Poverty drives child marriages, but social pressures and harmful practices including beliefs about virginity and menstruation also contribute. Another concern is an increasing number of children eloping, who suffer the same harms as children forced to marry.
Our research shows how harmful child marriage can be. Both girls and boys usually stopped going to school after marriage. Domestic violence – which women who marry young are more likely to suffer than women who marry later – was common. Some of the most painful stories were about the consequences of girls giving birth before their bodies are mature; too many girls had watched their babies die or suffered serious health problems themselves.
At the 2014 London Girl Summit, Nepal’s Minister of Women, Children and Social Welfare pledged to “strive to” end child marriage by 2020. She presented a five-point plan for how Nepal would achieve this goal, which included strengthening and enforcing laws against child marriage and ensuring allocation of necessary financial and technical resources.
Unfortunately, there has been little progress. The government has yet to release its national strategy on ending child marriage. The government says it plans to develop a more detailed national action plan, but there is no clear timeline for when the plan will be drafted or completed.
The Nepal government’s ability to meet its ambitious goal of ending child marriage by 2020 is quickly slipping away. The March 23 Girl Summit should be a moment to restore momentum by setting a clear timeline for developing a detailed and comprehensive national plan of action.
Nepal’s children deserve nothing less.