Extreme poverty has led many families to encourage early marriage as a way to ease the economic burden they face.
In Nepal’s rural regions, early marriage is a persistent problem that causes long-term damage to girls’ physical, emotional and economic wellbeing. According to United Nations Population Fund, 43 per cent of women residing in rural areas and 27 per cent of women residing in urban areas get married before reaching the age of 18.
Once married the girls are pressured to have children as soon as possible, often before their body is ready, posing enormous health risks and complications for the girls and their children. With little knowledge of their rights or basic information about how their body works, the young brides are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, particularly in a patriarchal society where domestic violence is considered a private matter.
Her Turn runs a four-week workshop for girls in rural government schools which is also attended by girls who have dropped out of school. Girls meet with local female trainers to discuss issues including health and safety, sexual violence and trafficking, confidence-building, public speaking and leadership.
Girls work on a community project of their choosing and a Girls’ Support Committee is formed in each school. Families and community members are invited to attend talks and performances that bring the girls’ issues to light, helping raise awareness in the wider community about the risks of underage marriage and trafficking.
In 2014, Her Turn launched a mentorship programme to provide the girls with long-term support by providing them with mentors recruited from a pool of successful alumni.
Her Turn has worked with 2,570 girls in 37 schools in 21 Village Development Committees in Sindhupalchok and Gorkha districts, which are considered among the least developed in Nepal and were severely affected by 2015 earthquake. Following the deadly earthquake, Her Turn helped deliver kits to girls that contained the most essential items for menstrual hygiene.
Photos: Uma Bista