Several recent studies from the development agencies suggest that the dynamics of the child marriage is changing in Nepal. Child marriage in Nepal was a predominantly rural phenomenon where the parents forced their children to get married through “arranged marriage”. While the rate of child marriages through “arranged marriage” has dropped in the rural areas, an increasing number of children are getting married by choosing their own partner, so called “love marriage”. Similarly, “love marriage” among children is also rising in urban and semi-urban areas like Pharping.
Poverty, negative socio-cultural practices, lack of education, and lack of hope for the future are some of the major causes for “arranged marriage” of children. These same factors are also contributing to the rise in “love marriage”, however, new technology, namely social media, has been identified as the major enabler for such marriages among the children in Nepal. Reports from Save the Children Nepal, Human Rights Watch Nepal, and New York Times highlighted that more and more children are getting married with partners they met on social media platforms, mainly Facebook.
Affordable smartphones from China and India and access to the internet through cellular data has made it possible for rural populations to go online. Young people spend a considerable amount of time and money to access the Internet to login to social media outlets like Facebook, which is the primary medium of communication among young people. Through this platform many of the young boys and girls find partners without the knowledge of their parents or guardians.
For this reason, most of parents and community members believe that access to technology should be restricted and that organizations like ours should not seek to provide tools like computers or mobile phones to children. They believe that these tools will lead to potential child marriage, but we do not believe that depriving children from modern technology will stop child marriage, instead it will further widen the digital divide between the haves and have nots. As always, we believe that education is the key here.
In order to combat both “arranged marriage” and “love marriage” among children, raising awareness about the ill-effects of marrying early is the key. For traditional form of child marriage, awareness programs were designed mainly for the parents and the community members and incentives were provided to keep their daughters in school. However, to decrease “love marriage”, awareness programs that cater directly to the children are indispensable. We believe, for example, that all children should be given “Comprehensive Sexuality Education”, so that they can understand adverse effects of being sexually active early and the serious consequences of adolescence pregnancy.
Forbidding new technology or social media to young people is not only impossible, but it is also counterproductive because it deprives them of their fundamental rights, including access to information. Instead, we should focus on awareness programs, such as providing Comprehensive Sexuality Education so that they understand the risks of marrying at an early age and they can also exercise the best choices regarding their reproductive health and rights.