The Guardian

Child marriage in Nepal: ‘A girl is a girl, not a wife’

“Am I a girl, or a mother?” Rachana Sunar opens her speech at the Oslo Freedom Forum quoting one of the child brides she has been supporting in the past four years. It is poignant to think that a 15-year-old girl could be confused about such things, but in Nepal, 40.7% of girls are forced into early adulthood by getting married by the age of 18.

The law says that the minimum age to get married is 20, therefore child marriage in Nepal cannot be tackled from a legal perspective, but by changing cultural norms and traditions. According to Sunar: “Dialogue is a process to break the silence.”

Sunar was born in 1994 in a village in mid-western Nepal, where she grew up with her six sisters, mother and father. At 15, while still in school through a scholarship programme, Sunar was told by her parents she would marry a man she had never met before. She escaped child marriage by tricking her parents into thinking that if she dropped out of school they’d have to pay the past three years of her scholarship.

“The greatest inspirations were the challenges I experienced in my own life,” Sunar says. She witnessed years of abuse by her father to her mother for giving birth only to girls. Her experiences made her determined to show her father and the community “girls are just as valuable as boys”.

In Nepal, she explains, many girls lack ambition and determination because they have seen generations of women passing from dependence on their fathers to dependence on their husbands: “They have no will to be independent, to study or to get a job and they don’t know about their career, because the authority of their lives is in someone else’s hands.” Read More