Preventing Child Marriage through Mentoring and Education
Report by: Puja Pudasaini
According to a recent report from Human Rights Watch, 37% of girls are married before the age of 18 and 10% before they are 15. Child marriage is one of the key dangers for girls in Nepal, and our focus on keeping girls in school at least until graduation from high school is our way of combating it. To highlight the dangers of child marriage and to educate the communities on this topic, Rukmini Foundation, Niwano Peace Foundation (NPF), and National Institute of Psycho-Educational and Counseling (NIPEC) collaborated with two local schools, Panchakanya Secondary School and Setidevi Secondary School, in late February to launch community-based awareness programs.
Students writing down their thoughts on child marriage
The Panchakanya School event had nearly 70 students, and the counselors: Lavaj Purie, Manisha Khadga Yadav, and Brikesh Raut organized the session in an interesting way that got the students to think about a young person’s whole life and not just the act of marriage. The program started with a discussion on adolescent health, the childhood experience, and the relationship between students, parents, and teachers. This bridged into a later conversation about how to address problems caused by the generation gap between students and elders.
Counselor, Mr. Lavaj Purie talking through the different phases of a person’s life and how they interact
The second session directly broached the topic of child marriage and examined the impacts of child marriage for families and society. The session also looked at the effects on the individuals, their mental and physical health. The session eventually led to a conversation about child marriage prevention, and encouraged political activism to strengthen the administering of laws prohibiting this institution. The counselors got the students of Panchakanya School involved in this session by incorporating a puzzle game where they had to try to put a ripped up newspaper back together. This was symbolic because child marriage shatters a girl’s life, and it is difficult to put the places back together. It was a powerful way for the program to make a strong statement against child marriage.
Trying to put a ripped up newspaper back together. A poignant exercise to highlight how child marriage shatters a girl’s life and demonstrates how difficult it is to put the pieces back together.
We held a similar program at our partner school, Setidevi School for 45 students. This program started a bit differently because the counselors got everyone involved by doing some meditation to show the importance of mental health and adolescent wellness. This session was also very interactive between students and counselors. We discussed all of the reasons why we must work to end child marriage.
Students and mentors took part in doing some meditating and exercising
The counselors provided a very detailed overview on the realities of child marriage in Nepal. The session especially emphasized the negative consequences of early marriage, which can affect not only a victim’s future career opportunities, but also their present well-being through detriments to their mental and physical health. This was a powerful session for everyone. The students were very involved in asking and answering questions of the counselors.
Scholar, Susmita Tamang speaks up at the event
Everybody who attended the program found this to be very highly impactful. The coordinators of the event from NIPEC recommended that we conduct similar programs, but with external community members. We agree with that idea and hope to be able to do more of these programs in the future. Students interviewed after the event felt that additional programs like these were necessary in order to keep raising awareness about the problem and to help young people to better communicate about these issues with parents. The students also remarked that they were happy to learn that adolescents have a voice and the ability to make a difference. This is exactly the type of change we want to inspire by empowering our youth, especially girls.
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