Mamita says no to child marriage

By Barun Bajracharya, Content Manager, World Vision International Nepal

18-year-old Mamita is from Lamjung in the western region of Nepal. Her mother fixed her marriage when she was 15.

 

18-year-old Mamita dreams of becoming a nurse and helping the marginalised. Mamita lived with her family of six in Lamjung. Her father was working as a labourer in Saudi Arabia. Due to a lack of good employment opportunities in Nepal, it is common for people with limited or no educational qualifications to go to the Middle East and other countries to work as labourers.

But at the age of 15, Mamita confronted the biggest obstacle of her life, a decision that would alter her future.

A marriage proposal came knocking on Mamita’s family door. Thinking they had found a good match, her relatives brought a marriage proposal intended for her sister. The climate of festivities quickly turned to one of panic when her sister eloped, leaving the family in a compromising position. The news of the elopement had started marring the image of the family within their community. Something needed to be done to save the family from losing respect.

Societal ridicule and an inability to provide for her children drove her mother, Nirmala, to arrive at a precarious decision. Fearing the possibility of her other daughter following in the footsteps of her sister, Nirmala offered 15-year-old Mamita as a substitute bride. Oblivious to the adverse consequences of child marriage, uneducated Nirmala followed the traditional custom, thinking it was perfectly normal to offer Mamita as a fair alternate option.

According to the 2014 UNICEF report, Ending Child Marriage, almost half of all child brides worldwide live in South Asia. Nepal is one of the 10 countries with the highest prevalence of child marriage. 52% of women aged 20 to 49 years were married or in union before ages 15 and 18.

Nirmala left no room for discussion on the matter and expected Mamita to graciously accept the marriage proposal. Crippled with fear, Mamita could not say anything to her mother but within her heart she knew that she did not want to marry early. Knowing that the situation was beyond her, she sought help from the members of her school’s child club, which was supported by World Vision.

“When I first heard about the news of my marriage I could not comprehend what was happening. I knew that I was too young for marriage and I wanted to study further and become a nurse. I was just 15. It made me sad and depressed and out of fear I could not say anything to my mother.”

“I knew there was a child club in my school and they worked on child protection issues. I thought they might be able to help me, counsel me and find a way out. That was my only hope. I was desperate to get any help,” says Mamita.

Despite the fear brewing within her, Mamita took the bold step of reaching out for that help. She approached the children’s club and talked to them about her predicament. After getting the assurance that all measures would be taken to protect her rights as a child, Mamita sighed a sigh of relief. The children’s club sought the support of local authorities and attempted to counsel Mamita’s mother on the issue of child marriage. Mamita had finally found her ray of hope.

As part of an awareness programme, school child clubs receive an orientation from World Vision on child protection issues, such as child marriage, child labour, and child abuse.

School child clubs also work for school issues such as cleanliness, attendance, studies, extracurricular activities, awareness programmes, street dramas and more. They learn that child marriage is illegal and that boys and girls are not mature enough to get married before the age of 20. The child club members are also trained by World Vision on who to contact when child protection issues are raised.

They first contact concerned authorities such as the District Child Welfare Board and the Village Child Protection and Promotion Committee to report a proposed child marriage. The child club members also directly talk with the authorities, coordinating a fixed time and date to meet the family of the proposed bride or groom and advise them.

This story was first featured on wvi.org