At a time when Nepal is celebrating the election of women as the president and speaker for the first time, a survey has revealed that almost two-thirds of the country’s women are married before they turn 18.
Last October, communist leader Bidhya Devi Bhandari was elected the president a month after Nepal adopted its new Constitution. The same month, the parliament elected former Maoist rebel Onsari Gharti Magar as the speaker. Both developments were seen as a new high for the status of women in the impoverished nation.
But the findings of the survey by the Central Bureau of Statistics regarding child marriage and attitudes towards domestic violence weren’t as encouraging. The multiple indicator cluster survey for 2014, conducted with financial and technical support from the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), covered all 75 districts of the country.
The survey found that among women aged 15 to 49 years, 16% were married before the age of 15. Among women aged 20 to 49 years, 49% were married before they turned 18.
“Women who are married before the age of 18 tend to have more children than those who marry later in life. Pregnancy-related deaths are known to be a leading cause of mortality for both married and unmarried girls between the ages of 15 and 19,” the survey said.
It added, “About one in four young women aged 15-19 years were currently married or in a marital union. Among currently married women aged 15-49 years, 4% were in a polygamous marriage.”
The survey found the trend of early marriages among women has gradually declined over the years, with the rate of decline steeper in urban areas when compared to rural households.
It also found that 43% of women between 15 and 49 years felt husbands were justified in beating their wives if they didn’t take care of children, went out without informing their husbands or argued with them.
A few said it was okay for husbands to beat wives who refused to have sex or burnt food.
Sixty-four percent said it was justified for mothers-in-law to verbally abuse or threaten their daughters-in-law if the former didn’t take care of children, went out without informing or argued with the mother-in-law.
“Older women were more likely to justify it than younger ones. Justification was higher among less educated women and those living in poorer households,” the survey said.