In Kalikot district, incidents of child marriage are still rampant169 incidents of child marriage were reported in two local units of the district in 2020.
A girl from Dhainedi in Khandachakra Municipality, Kalikot, eloped with a boy from a neighbouring local unit three years ago. She was just 14 years old then. The teenager gave birth to a baby girl last year but is now left to fend for herself, as her husband married another girl last month.
“I eloped with him without the consent of my family. My husband betrayed me and married another girl. My parents are still angry at me, as I married against their will. I have nowhere to go now,” the teenager said.
Jiban BK, 21, of Khandachakra whisked away a 14-year-old girl two months ago. His father, who is the ward chairman of Khandachakra-4 and a former coordinator of the village child welfare committee, attempted to conceal the incident of child marriage.
“Instead of counseling the couple and sending the girl home, the ward chairman hid the incident from everyone. We returned the girl to her parents soon after we were informed about the incident,” said Inspector Mahesh Bikram Shahi.
Incidents of child marriage, despite being illegal in Nepal, are widespread in Kalikot, a remote district of Karnali Province.
The data available at Sahayatra, a project funded by Save the Children, shows that cases of elopement of underage people are rampant in Kalikot. As per a survey conducted by the project in Tilagupha Municipality and Shuvakalika Rural Municipality in 2020, 169 incidents of child marriage were reported in these two local units in 2020.
“As many as 156 cases (around 92 percent) of the total cases of child marriage are of elpopment,” said Baley Bishwokarma, a child rights activist.
Bir Bahadur Budha, ward chairman of Bharta in Ward No. 1 of Subhakalika Rural Municipality, married off his 15-year-old daughter on January 2. She was studying at grade nine. But just two months after her wedding, the teenager was found dead in her house under mysterious circumstances. Her in-laws claim that she committed suicide while her family say she was murdered. The case is still unresolved.
Sangita Oli, a psychologist, says child marriage can lead to various social and mental problems like domestic violence, depression, high maternal mortality rate and malnutrition, among others.
According to the District Police Office in Kalikot, it has been making efforts to control incidents of child marriage. The data of the police office shows that it has stopped 109 underage couples from marrying since mid-April 2020.
“Most of the weddings were cancelled with the help of the representatives of the children club,” said Deputy Superintendent of Police Chakra Bahadur Shah.
The Kalikot police has taken two cases of child marriage to the District Court this fiscal year.
“The rest of the cases were settled in the villages,” said Shah. “We have also warned the parents not to marry off their children before they reach the eligible age.”
Meanwhile, rights activists say the police are also to blame for the prevalence of child marriage in the district.
Prakash Bahadur Shahi, a child rights activist, said the police do not take cases of child marriage seriously.
“In the majority of cases, police arrest culprits and release them after inquiry,” Shahi said. “If they had taken stern actions against the culprits, maybe the cases of child marriage would have decreased.”