In past six months, District Police, Banke has documented the cases of 159 missing women, 52 of them minors. There is a common cause behind their disappearance: elopement.“Most complaints are related to girls eloping. As those below 20 years cannot legally marry, they run away from home to get hitched. Parents lodge complaints when their daughters go missing,” says Superintendent of Police Bir Bahadur Oli, chief of Banke Police. “They return after turning 20, many with their babies.”
The girls and young women cross the border and reach Indian towns where they get married, according to Oli. Police records show that families do not accept the marriage at first, but gradually, short of options, they start doing so.
“As parents oppose marriage, children run away,” Oli adds. “Fearing punishment for underage marriage, many parents do not report to the police even when their children return.”
Banke is a district where child marriage is rampant. According to the 2011 Population Census, 66.08 percent marriages in Banke involved underage participants. Meanwhile, another survey of a local non-profit Social Awareness Concern Form showed that the underage marriages in 2019 involved 80.79 percent of all girls and 60.92 percent of all boys.
The survey showed that in the Nepalgunj Sub-metropolitan and in Rapti Sonari Village Council as many as 83.16 percent of the marrying women were underage.
The police have stepped up efforts to control child marriage in the district. There are many child and teenage girl clubs that report to police when they come to know of any child marriage. Acting on those reports, the police last year stopped 35 marriages in Nepalgunj Sub-metropolitan City and Janaki Rural Municipality. But this year, no child marriage has been reported yet.
Maiti Nepal, an organization working to stop trafficking-in-person, had received complaints of 869 missing women last year. Of them, 239 were under 18. Keshab Koirala, an official with the organization, suspects most of them run away to marry, as many of the girls rescued from the bordering areas and Indian towns were found to have married before age. “They are at risk of being sold in India,” Koirala says.
The organization had rescued 347 girls last year. “We rescued 21 girls in a single lot at Jamunaha border point. They were mostly between 14 and 18, and from Salyan and Rukum districts,” Koirala adds.
Three of the girls rescued by Maiti Nepal in India were sold by their boyfriends. “They lure uneducated girls with a promise of marriage, and the educated ones with nice jobs,” Koirala says. “When the girls go to India without their parents, there is a greater risk of them being sold”