Bangles and Bindhi’s: Engaging communities about child marriage in southern Nepal
This is a guest post written by Delan Devakumar, Dinesh Deokota, Sunita Thapa, Sophiya Dulal and Joanna Morrison about their Wellcome Trust funded engagement project in Nepal. Both Delan and Joanna are health researchers at UCL focusing on Nepal.
Child marriage is very common in many parts of the world. Despite being illegal in Nepal, it has one of the highest rates of child marriage, with two fifths of young adult women reporting to have been married before the age of 18. It is particularly common in rural areas and amongst certain ethnic groups, particularly the Dalit (low-caste) communities in the southern plains.
Being married young is a major determinant of physical and mental ill health. Girls who marry young are more likely to have children at a younger age and it is associated with an increased risk of mortality and illness in both the mother and baby. In addition, there are often educational, economic and social consequences of child marriage and many girls must move to a new area to live with their husbands’ family, potentially resulting in isolation and school drop-out.
Child marriage is understood to be a problem in Nepal and the government has recently set a goal to end child marriage by 2020 but attempts to reduce the rates of child marriage have largely been unsuccessful. Child marriage is a custom that has been ingrained over generations, with strong social and financial incentives. Traditionally, marriage is arranged by the family (61% of marriages in Nepal) with the bride and groom having little say in the decision process.
Over the course of a year and a half, we worked with a local film maker to engage with the public on topic of child marriage. Rather than just focus on education, we worked with couples (both men and women) who were married young to think deeply about how child marriage has affected their lives. We then created a film based on these discussions, telling their stories.
This short video explains the process of creating and sharing the film:
The next stage of the project involved going out to communities in Kapilvastu district, in rural plains Nepal, where child marriage is common. We screened the film to both small and large audiences. A trained facilitator then led a discussion on the topics that were covered and to think about how they may address the issue locally. We held 19 small group screening and discussions in communities, with boys, girls, parents and community leaders, and three large group screenings.
Overall approximately 1800 people attended the screenings. We showed the film in Kathmandu to external development partners and international and national nongovernmental organisations working on child marriage. We will continue to engage organisations and working groups and committees within the education and health sectors to encourage utilisation of the film in rural areas.
The purpose of telling stories, like the ones in the film, is that it establishes trust and connection between the speaker and listener. It increases receptivity, captures attention, engages emotions, and allows the receiver to participate in the story. It communicates values, helps people make sense of their world, and provides a dependable way for people to remember, retrieve, and retell a meaningful message.
The film and discussions have helped to create discussion about the causes and consequences of child marriage, and the barriers to change – both within communities and between researchers and community workers. Community members have mapped key stakeholders to engage in preventing child marriage, and sought to conduct more screenings in different community groups to increase awareness and stimulate debate. Through this engagement process we have catalysed discussion and built a conscious objective to work towards the reduction of child marriage in Nepal.
Watch the full film: Stolen Dreams Broken Lives – Child Marriage in Nepal