The dowry system and child marriage

  • Date: 06/03/2019
  • Author: Erick Onduru

A group of school going young boys and girls in Parsa, Nepal have taken upon themselves to rid their village of child marriage. We spoke with them during our annual programme monitoring and learning visit. We wanted to understand the challenges they are facing in the quest for a better future for Nepali girls. And how the dowry system relates to child marriage in Nepal.

According to a UNFPA 2018 report, 41% of women in Nepal aged 20 to 24 were married before they turned 18. This position is supported by the Nepali Times[1] report of August 28th, 2018, which found the rate to be 37%, (married before they turn 18) and that 10% were already married at the age of 15. A significant number. This is the third highest rate of child marriage in South Asia after Bangladesh and India.

Why does the dowry system matter?

As we sat for the discussions, the enthusiasm among the boys and girls was palpable.  There is never a night or a problem that could defeat sunrise or hope.  We could tell that they were hopeful despite the obstacles that prevent the eradication of child marriage. One such challenge, and probably the biggest, is the dowry system. Nepali parents with daughters are expected to pay the groom when marrying their daughter. This is unlike other systems, where the groom pays for the bride. The design of this system has proven to entrench child marriage.  As your daughter grows older, the number of suitors decrease. And parents “have to pay more to get her off your books”. Parents opt to marry their daughters off, while young, as a way of reducing this cost.

This then begs the question: Why does dowry even exist in marriage in the first place? And why does it only get paid one way? As we concluded the discussions with the young boys and girls, they sought answers from us, on the best way they could go about ending this practice that is denying girls the chance to further their education and contribute to the society. Huge questions that we hope this generation of Nepali young people will be able to answer.

A story of hope

Nevertheless, as is often the case to any challenge, there is a silver lining. We were told a story of hope. Of how these young girls, through their school clubs, supported one of their friends who was on her way to get married. The girl had already dropped out of school. They first reported the impending marriage through the school reporting box. And so the case was taken up by their teachers. The group also took it upon themselves to engage the parents of the girl, ensuring that the girl was rescued and brought back to school. To which the girl’s father retorted in anger that he will also not allow any other young girl to be married in that community, having been denied the opportunity to marry his daughter while young. And so becoming an unlikely advocate against child marriage!

Evidently, there is still work to be done with older members of the community, but for now, there is hope in the younger generations of this community

About the programme

The programme monitoring and learning visits are part of ActionAid Ireland’s initiative to strengthen the capacity of the partners implementing the Irish Aid funded Women’s Rights Programme. The programme is currently being implemented through ActionAid Nepal Divya Youth Club (DYC) partner in Parsa District. Targeting violence against women (which includes child marriage).


Pictured: the team fighting child marriage in Nepal.

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