(PRESS RELEASE) Nepal accepted recommendations from three countries to expedite the elimination of child marriage and effectively tackle gender-based discrimination and violence against women and girls that stems from early and forced marriage.
A Nepalese delegation responded to a range of issues at the Human Rights Council—the U.N.’s main human rights body—as part of a review of the country’s human rights record. Nepal accepted recommendations from Botswana to “step up efforts to eliminate gender inequity and implement the national strategy on ending child marriages,” and from Sierra Leone to “adopt a bill criminalizing harmful cultural practices, and abolish child, early and enforced marriage.” It also supported calls from Belgium to “strengthen measures to combat violence against children” noting the prevention of child marriage and trafficking.
In September, Nepal enacted a new constitution that prohibits “child marriage, illegal trafficking and kidnapping or detention of any child” and recognizes women’s reproductive rights as a fundamental human right. The government has demonstrated political will to address child marriage—even signing onto a Human Rights Council resolution in 2013 — yet the country has one of the highest rates of child marriage in South Asia and still has not fully implemented laws and policies to eliminate the practice.
Said Melissa Upreti, regional director for Asia at the Center for Reproductive Rights:
“Women can determine for themselves when and whom to marry.
“While the Nepal government is committed to ending child marriage, the denial of equal citizenship rights for women and pervasive gender discrimination remains—leading to too many girls forced into illegal early marriages each year.
“Nepal has some of the strongest constitutional and legal protections against child marriage worldwide, but lack of implementation allows child marriage to persist, leaving women and young girls susceptible to serious reproductive health harms and sexual violence.”
As part of Nepal’s review at the Human Rights Council, Canada, the United Kingdom, Spain and Brazil also raised questions about child marriage.
The Center for Reproductive Rights and the Forum for Women, Law and Development submitted a letter to the U.N. Human Rights Council highlighting the common practice of child marriage and how there continues to be impunity for violations of women’s and girls’ human rights arising from child marriage.
The letter also notes how child marriage exposes young girls to physical and sexual violence, including early and forced initiation into sex and marital rape. According to the 2011 National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS), 47% of women who first had sex before the age of 15 years and 28.6% of women who first had sex between the ages of 15-19 stated that their initial experience of sexual intercourse was forced and against their will—with the majority of these cases having occurred within marriage. Husbands are reportedly the perpetrators of sexual violence in nearly 90% of sexual abuse cases in Nepal.
According to the 2011 national census, more than 100,000 women were given away in marriage before the age of ten in Nepal. Under current law, it is difficult for a young bride to legally end a child marriage, and the proper support systems are not yet in place.
The Center for Reproductive Rights has worked in Nepal for almost two decades to strengthen recognition of women’s and girls’ reproductive rights and access to services. In 2013, the Center issued the report Child Marriage in South Asia: Stop the Impunity examining the consequences of child marriage, which subject girls to heinous abuses, including domestic violence and marital rape, placing their reproductive health and lives at serious risk. The report criticizes the failure of governments in South Asia to prevent and prosecute cases of child marriage, which has led to these countries being complicit in violating young girls’ human rights. Since 2014, the Center has worked closely with the South Asia Initiative to End Violence Against Children (SAIEVAC), which spearheaded the passage of the Regional Action Plan to End Child Marriage in South Asia and the Kathmandu Call for Action, in which the Government of Nepal has also played a key role.
The Center for Reproductive Rights has built a significant presence throughout Asia, with major initiatives such as the South Asia Reproductive Justice and Accountability Initiative which focuses on promoting the use of the law and legal strategies to protect and promote women’s reproductive rights in the region. The Center—which opened a Nepal office in 2012—has conducted legal research, built local capacity and undertaken advocacy at the U.N. in relation to numerous countries in the region.