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Child Marriage in NepalNepal, a landlocked country in South Western Asia, is one of the few places in the world where rates of child marriage are not slowing. In certain areas, they are increasing. Although child marriage in Nepal has been illegal for over fifty years, 40% of Nepalese women between the ages of 20 and 24 were illegally married before their eighteenth birthday. Young boys are equally at risk. The number of child grooms is disproportionately high when compared to the rest of the world.

Contributions to Child Marriage in Nepal

Several factors contribute to child marriage in developing countries. Nepal has a patriarchal society that values girls significantly less than boys. Limited access to education and a negative outlook towards a sexual expression motivates adolescents to marry early. The most massive motivator, however, is poverty. Countries with a higher percentage of the population living on under $1.90 per day, including Nepal, frequently experience higher rates of child marriage. Poverty correlates to the high rates of child marriage in Nepal, including dowries and financial benefits, economic hardship of schooling and “love marriages” to escape poverty.

The Struggle with Poverty

Although rates have decreased over the past few years, Nepal continues to struggle with poverty. While poverty in Nepal has reduced from 15% to 8% in the last decade, the country remains one of the most impoverished in Asia and ranks 147th on the Human Development Index. Nepal is mostly made up of a landscape dominated by mountains. Being rural makes development difficult. The country also struggles with rapid population growth, political instability and a growing wealth gap between the very rich and the very poor. They all contribute to a high poverty rate.

Considering the Financial Reasons

Nepalese families often arrange marriages for their children for financial reasons. Girls who live under the poverty line are more likely to enter a child marriage in Nepal than girls who do not. This dilemma is due to the concept of a dowry. A bride’s family will provide the groom’s family with money or gifts to establish the marriage. Dowries increase the societal value of boys who receive them. They decrease the value of girls whose families must pay. Impoverished families rely on dowries as a source of income, incentivizing them to marry their sons, especially at young ages. In some areas in Southern Nepal, the dowry increases with the age of the bride. This motivates families to arrange marriages for their daughters quickly and early.

Additionally, many married girls stop attending school to care for their husband and start a family. Tuition and materials are costly, and keeping girls in school creates a financial strain on families. This strain is relieved when a match leads to an established marriage.

Escaping Poverty

Child marriage also functions as a means to escape poverty. ‘Love marriages,’ or those not sanctioned by parents, are also common in impoverished Nepal. Young girls and boys often establish ‘love marriages’ as a way to leave their families. This can be done for many reasons, yet a common one is poverty. Matches form quickly to escape impoverished homes and enter a more secure situation.

The Nepalese government has implemented some strategies to decrease the high rates of child marriage in Nepal. The country recently increased their minimum legal marrying age to 20. Families who kept their daughters in school instead of arranging a wedding for them received cash incentives and bicycles in January 2019. Nepal has promised to eradicate child marriage by the year 2030. Although it is a daunting task, it is incredibly crucial for the health and wellbeing of Nepalese girls.

Daryn Lenahan
Photo: Flickr

Media Coverage of Global Poverty
Many U.S. citizens have misconceptions about the extent of global poverty and how the government is acting to remedy the issue. However, this may not be at the fault of the general public. Media coverage of global poverty largely contributes to the information gaps in the minds of many Americans.

A survey done by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that Americans assume more than 20% of the federal budget is spent on foreign aid. In reality, non-military assistance composes just about 0.2% of the federal budget. This assumption is especially pertinent, as it may give Americans the impression that global poverty is constantly decreasing. For the first time since 1998, that is no longer true. COVID-19 is pushing millions into extreme poverty, counteracting years of progress.

Limited Media Coverage

In 2014, another study found that three major network newscasts devoted just 0.2% of their programming to poverty in 14 months. Recently, with politics and public health consuming the majority of airtime, this number has fallen. Media coverage of global poverty is taking a back seat to other topics. Consequently, it is no surprise that many Americans have warped perceptions of poverty overseas.

General, mainstream media outlets tend to shy away from discussing global poverty in great depth. This is because the topic may not test well with viewers. As a result, when there are reports on these issues, they often take the form of stories or opinion pieces rather than formal news stories. While these pieces still spread awareness, they do not relay to Americans, the facts of what occurs overseas. In turn, this limits the opportunity for readers to develop sufficiently informed opinions of their own.

Mainstream Media Coverage?

Even The New York Times, a reputable news outlet, is not immune to this phenomenon. A Google search for “global poverty New York Times” yields an opinion piece before any formal article on the subject. These results may deter readers from trusting information in the opinion article (first search result) as opinion pieces outwardly inform readers of bias. The second article, titled “Millions Have Risen Out of Poverty. Coronavirus is Pulling them Back” begins with a narrative of a woman in Bangladesh escaping poverty, then falling back into its grasp due to the side effects of COVID-19. Using devices like storytelling to convey facts can be effective, but it does not always present the most detailed information. Just three articles on the Google search results page are from 2020. This represents  only 30% of the initial search results. Any other non-opinion pieces are from 2015 or earlier (at the time of this article’s publication).

However, it may not even be the news outlets that are at fault for the sporadic nature of their reports on poverty. Censorship proves to be its own problem. Many impoverished countries tend to withhold the information for which journalists may be looking. The extra steps or inability to access these kinds of facts may prove difficult for some news outlets.

Other Outlets

The irregular nature of the reports on poverty explains why the issue is not on the radar of many Americans. Yet, still, the information does exist. News outlets such as Borgen Magazine and Global Citizen consistently release articles in the interests of the world’s poor — simultaneously educating Americans on foreign affairs. However, this does not make up for mainstream news outlets’ lack of coverage.

There have been efforts to remedy the lack of media coverage of global poverty, including publications and initiatives dedicated to aiding the world’s poor. For instance, the Global Investigative Journalism Network released tips on covering poverty back in 2014. However, knowledge of poverty and how to combat it cannot spread unless two things occur. First, citizens must take the initiative to seek it out themselves. Alternatively (and arguably more beneficially), mainstream media outlets can find a way to integrate it into their news releases on a more regular basis.

Ava Roberts
Photo: Wikimedia Commons