Progress towards ending child marriage in Nepal appears to have ground to a halt, despite early hopes. Nepal, with the third highest rate of child marriage in Asia – 37 percent of girls married before 18, and 10 percent married by 15 – had been praised for acting to end child marriage.
In March 2016, the government hosted a Girl Summit, launching a national strategy to end child marriage by 2030 – the global target under the 2016 Sustainable Development Goals. Six months later, government officials told Human Rights Watch that they were developing an implementation plan. And yet in August 2017, there is no sign of the plan. The official leading the effort has moved to a different ministry. The government is quiet on when the plan will be finalized, let alone put into action.
The initial strategy is an aspirational document describing a vision, not a specific plan. To reach any goal Nepal needs practical steps: activities, targets, timelines, budget lines, and data collection. The government said it would develop these practical steps. United Nations officials thought the plan should be ready by spring 2017. But nothing has happened
Meanwhile, every day, girls and boys, usually from the most marginalized and vulnerable communities, are marrying in Nepal, with devastating consequences. Their childhoods are cut short, their education often abandoned, as girls take on housework and boys struggle to provide for a family they are too young to have. Married children become parents too soon, and girls face serious health consequences, including death, due to early pregnancy, as well as a heightened risk of domestic violence.
“When girls are married they have to stay at home and can’t study,” Pramila, married at 14, told Human Rights Watch. “Same with boys – when they get married they have to work. It’s better for both of them if they study and grow up. If they marry early their whole life is spoiled.”
The Nepal government was happy to accept praise for tackling child marriage. Now it should follow through and show that its good intentions will lead to real action, sooner rather than later.