By Shambhu Yadav | Siraha
Province 2 government has spent millions on the ‘Save daughter, educate daughter’ campaign. Meanwhile, in a blatant travesty of the campaign, Provincial State Minister for Industry, Tourism, Forest and Environment Suresh Mandal has paid for the wedding of a 14-year-old girl from Siraha. In the past few months, the police have prevented as many as seven child marriages in the district.
On April 24, Radha Mallik (Dom), a Dalit girl from Kalyanpur municipality, was married to Ajaya Mallik from the district of Dhanusha in the presence of Mandal. Hundreds of thousands of rupees were spent on tents, food, jewelry and clothes by the minister and ward chairman Ashok Mandal. Minister Mandal has been consistently defending his action, arguing that arranging a wedding ceremony for a poor Dalit’s daughter is no sin.
The bride is nowhere close to the legal age for marriage in Nepal. The General Criminal Code Act, which came into effect on 17 August 2018, stipulates that a man and a woman can get married only after they turn 20. Radha’s birth certificate says she was born on 23 April 2005—which means she turned 14 only a day before the wedding.
Nobody has reported Radha’s marriage to the police yet. If someone files a complaint, we will initiate action against the alleged culprits
Madhav Raj Kharel DSP of Siraha
Rights activists enraged
The wedding has attracted the attention of several human and child rights organizations in Siraha. On April 27, they issued a press release stating that child marriage is unjustifiable and demanding action against minister Mandal. Arranging a child marriage is punishable by law. Every year, many mothers and infants die because of the severe adverse effects of this social scourge. Countless other women are deprived of educational and other opportunities.
Locals say Radha stopped going to school when she was in Grade 2. Rajkumar Raut Kurmi, a human rights activist, says that it is unfortunate that a girl, instead of being encouraged to study further, has been married off. He adds that minister Mandal’s action has dented the provincial government’s ‘Save daughter, educate daughter’ campaign. “A minister should be actively fighting a social evil like child marriage. But here is one who helps arrange it. This is wrong,” says Kurmi.
Waiting for a complaint
DSP Madhav Raj Kharel, the spokesperson for the District Police Office Siraha, says that if someone files a complaint, his office would initiate action against the alleged culprits. “But nobody has reported Radha’s marriage to the police yet,” says Kharel. It is possible that people fear the repercussions of registering a complaint involving a minister.
One of the Sustainable Development Goals that the Nepal government hopes to achieve by 2030 is to end child marriage in the country. The ‘Save girls, educate girls’ campaign is meant to aid the abolition of child marriage in Province 2.