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Early Marriage Affects Development of Nepal
Local customs and laws prevent women from contributing to country's growth
Rupa Kharel (rupi)     Print Article 
Published 2006-02-21 14:37 (KST)   
Marriage is considered a private matter and can be considered a human rights issue, but it is sensitive from a demographic point of view because early marriages can contribute to high fertility levels. In developed countries, the population growth is approaching ZPG (Zero Percentage Growth) due to fertility levels falling below the replacement level. However, in developing countries like Nepal, the fertility rate is rapidly increasing and levels are reaching the replacement floor.

In developing countries where the contraceptive occurrence rate is low, the age of first marriage has become the focus of attention for policy makers, due to its relationship to fertility trends. When the fertility level is low, the marriage age is high. This leads to the suggestion that a high marriage age may be a prediction of fertility control.

The most important factors for early marriages are religious beliefs and practice. To prevent premarital sex, parents are willing to marry their children at an early age, which is one of the most sensitive issues in Nepal. Where virginity is given a high social value the female marriage age is found to be younger. Nepal has a patriarchal society and female virginity is valued highly, which is a prerequisite for marriage. This is one of the reasons for early marriage in Nepal.

According to UNICEF, 7 percent of marriages take place below the age of 10; almost 40 percent of marriages take place below 15, while 52.2 percent represent marriage among young people below the age of 16. According to some existing social and religious values, marriage should occur before puberty (before menstruation starts). Due to the influence created by these factors, Nepalese encourage child marriages.

The civil court of Nepal has set the age at marriage for males at 21 and females at 18 years without parental permission and also 18 years for males and 16 years for females with parental permission. Nevertheless, early marriage is very commonly in use. It seems that the Nepalese are not compelled to follow the rule.

Numerous factors affect the age at first marriage. One significant one is the education level attained by women. The average age at marriage with no formal education is 16.3 years and 16.8 years for those with primary education and 19.5 years for women with a secondary level education. This shows that there is a direct relationship between female education and age at first marriage. The age at marriage is found higher in women who engaged in non-agricultural work in comparison to not working or being involved in agriculture and household duties.

Nepal is facing a great challenge and confronting the problems of a high population, which could be a barrier for the overall development of the country. The mortality rate is decreasing gradually, but the fertility rate is not decreasing at the same speed. That is why the population is increasing day by day. Nepal's population increased to 23.2 million in 2001 from 18.5 million previously.

Marriage age has a cumulative effect on fertility and morality. If a woman has an opportunity to postpone her marriage she has the chance of getting a higher education and consequently, the knowledge about contraception and health. Currently, many Asian countries have maintained the age of marriage for females at over 20 years. According to the Demography Health Survey (DHS 2001), Nepal has a higher total fertility rate, i.e. 4.1 percent, which has resulted in a high population growth of 2.25 percent per annum. The most important determinant of fertility and mortality rate of a country is a low marriage age.

However, the age at marriage has been increasing over the years in Nepal. According to the 2001 population census the average age at marriage has increased from 15.4 years in 1961 to 19.5 in 2001 for females and 19.5 in 1961 to 22.9 in 2001 for males. The figure is higher in urban than in rural areas. This increasing trend can be seen as a vital achievement. However, the rising trend is very slow. Thus, the slow pace in the increasing marriage age has caused the slow decrease in the fertility rate.

Although, the marriage age in Nepal is increasing, the growth is very low. The focus should be on the female age at first marriage and the programs should be rurally based. The people and the government should overcome local customs and laws, which are not in the favor of the nation. Besides, job opportunities can empower women and motivate them for late marriage.

- Average age at marriage by sex for districts in Nepal, 2001 

©2006 OhmyNews

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