Marriage is typically considered to be one of the foundations of the family unit, and family is thought to be one of the pillars of society. Because marriage is such a primary social concept, its forms and functions may be taken for granted, despite the fact that it is culturally dependent. For example, the idea that one must be in love in order to get married may be more cultural ideal than universal idea—and is thus not true of many cultures. Arranged marriages are still performed in many parts of the world, and can be means of building kinship circles and economic ties, rather than serving as declarations of cultivated, romantic love.
While the reasons for marriage may be negotiable, certain human rights regarding marriage are not. In some regions, including South Asia, marriages are often arranged between children, a status typically defined as people under the age of eighteen. In Nepal, the numbers of girls married off before they become legal adults, or before they even hit puberty are still fairly staggering, despite the practice being declared illegal since 1963, more than 50 years ago. Certain arguments in favor of child brides are that it is an important cultural practice, or that a girl is safer from sexual predators if she is married. However, the reality of premature marriages is that the girls are subject to many health issues, including psychological ones, lose prospects of education, and often times, the husbands prove to be their sexual assaulters anyway.
Further problematizing the practice is the fact that not all children are equally at risk. Girls do typically marry younger than boys, though both genders are susceptible to child marriage. If a girl is from a particular region, religion, ethnic group, or caste, her probability of being married early will also rise, often because of economic considerations of the dowry. Considering the myriad factors that influence the practice of child marriage in Nepal, as well as the proven inadequacy of the law, it is important to locate and frame the practice within the cultures in which it exists. With that said, one must question where the practice exists the most, why it exists there the most, and to what extent the practice of child marriage is a symptom of a larger dynamic of gender inequality. After spending time in the Terai, where the practice is the most common, it is my opinion that child marriage would not persist if it were not for the pervasiveness of practices such as the dowry, the unequal emphasis of marriage for women, and the practice of the daughter moving into the husband’s family’s home, all of which strengthen the existing patriarchy and prevent local girls from becoming self-determined.
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Baer Chan, Alexandra, "The Social Institution and Inscription of Child Marriage in the Terai Region of Nepal" (2015). Independent Study Project (ISP) Collection. 2097.
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