BOYS as young as seven are being forced into marriage in Nepal, leading to psychological trauma and high rates of school drop-outs, research from humanitarian organisation CARE Australia has found.
The report, Dads Too Soon: The Child Grooms of Nepal, sheds new light on an issue often seen through the eyes of girls who suffer most at the hands of child marriage.
CARE found Nepal had one of the world’s highest rates of child marriage, with 41 per cent of girls and 11 per cent of boys married before they turn 18.
In most places where child marriage is prevalent, men wed girls. But in parts of western Nepal, boys and girls are often forced to marry each other, CARE has found.
The children go through wedding ceremonies in their pre-teens, live apart for a few years, then move in together with the expectation of starting a family when boys are in their early teens.
“The pressure is hardest to take for poor families who can least afford to take risks. Wait too long, they fear, and their child will be stigmatised and unable to marry,” said Lex Kassenberg, CARE’s Country Director in Nepal.
The report found former child grooms are emerging as key allies in the movement to end early marriage.
“They know what it’s like to be trapped between boyhood and fatherhood. The ability to empathise makes them extremely effective communicators and enables them to help the boys and girls who need support.”
The report also comes amid fears April’s devastating earthquake, which killed more than 9,000 people, will further isolate rural communities.
CARE fears that could lead to greater economic stress and ultimately more early marriages.
Around the work, CARE works on a variety of programs aimed at ending child marriage.
In Nepal and Bangladesh, the Tipping Point program works with adolescent boys and girls, parents, community and religious leaders, to critically explore factors sustaining child marriage practices and finds ways to transform them.