“I fell in love when I was studying in grade 10. My love for him did not have any boundaries. By 18, we got married despite our family disapproval. Yes, we eloped.” says 20 years old Niru.
Niru is an active member of Girls Out Loud Nepal program that provides a safe online space for girls and young women between 13 and 24 years to discuss key gender issues. In closed Facebook groups moderated by trained staff, girls are asking questions and discussing topics such as sexual health and rights, menstruation, gender violence and self-confidence.
Nepal has one of the highest rates of child marriage in South Asia. Although the legal age of unions for both sexes is 20, more than a third of young women aged 20-24 report that they were married by the age of 18, and just over one in ten by 15.
For nearly a year, her marriage stood strong in front of all societal obligations. Her in-laws supported her and showered love. Niru and her husband discontinued their education. Her husband was engaged in work outside of home, whereas Niru became homemaker. Suddenly, Niru suffered from typhoid and pneumonia resulting weakness and fatigue. She was not able to contribute much in household chores. “All those love from my husband and in-laws vanished. They mocked me. They even did not support me for my medical expenses.”
Niru’s parents are migrant workers and stay in India. She stays with her siblings in Nepaljung. She had to reach out to her parents from medical support when her in-laws did not bother. Her husband forced her to move to her parent’s home. “This made me furious and I went to my home. He never called me nor came to check-in. I was mentally and financially devastated. I regret getting married.”
Child marriage is a human rights violation, restricting children’s choices, changing their course in life, and putting them at significant risk of abuse and violence. It increasingly appears that teenagers are choosing their own partners and may even elope. A UNICEF study found that one in three married girls in Nepal had been subjected to sexual violence by their husbands, while one in six reported physical violence.
“I was pregnant. I informed my husband and he did not accept it. I did not want to continue the pregnancy either. I tried to abort my pregnancy. The doctor I was consulting said I need my husband’s approval to abort my pregnancy.”
Niru returned to her in-laws due to her pregnancy. She thought she will be treated equally but she was not even looked after. Her work doubled. She became weak, as she did not receive proper care and nutritious food. She delivered a girl child. “They were not happy with a girl child. Since then I started to face physical and mental violence. My girl was neglected by her father and family.” Niru shared she had to work in the farm right after her delivery leading to excessive bleeding and weakness. Her husband had extra marital affairs. Then she decided to leave him forever.
“I wanted to continue my study, get decent job and raise my girl. To learn and engage myself, I joined the adolescent club. I was introduced to consequences of child marriage. I wish I had known this few years back, I would not have ended with bad marriage.”
Gradually Niru started to actively participate in all the activities organized by the adolescent club. She shared her story and inspired other girls to campaign against child marriage. She learned using social media for her activism. She then joined Girls Out Loud Nepal. “I am very new to social media. I had no idea such group exists where you can interact with girls of same age and discuss on issues like child marriage. GOL is very informative. I am learning from other girls and participating in the discussions. I realized there are girls who are campaigning against child marriage. They raise valid points and questions on how we young girls be supported by Plan International and government to end child marriage in our communities.”
Our adolescent club was established with support of Plan International Nepal. We are able to stop child marriages, educate parents and teachers and even work with religious leaders. We receive full support from local government authorities and police. At the same time, we receive threats from community people for stopping child marriage. Good news is child marriage incidents are decreasing but self-initiated marriages are increasing. As I did not have good marriage, I inform other girls to say no to early and forced child marriage.