Stakeholders have stressed that campaigns against child marriage in Banke face several challenges due to deep-rooted cultural norms. Government and non-government organizations are joining hands across Banke to declare the district ‘child marriage free’ but argued it was not an easy task.

“Majority communities in the district are Madheshis, Muslims and Tharus. The culture of solemnizing marriage at a young age is common among the communities and it is difficult to convince them that it is wrong,” said Kumar Shreevastav, chief of Banke’s District Coordination Committee.

According to Shreevastav, several approaches over the years have helped reduce the cases of child marriage but the problem still lingers. Child marriages have been reported from both rural and urban areas of Banke.

Similarly, Istiyak Ahamad Sah, chairperson of Narainapur Rural Municipality, stated that people belonging to the Madheshi and Muslim communities still stuck to the tradition of child marriage. “We had even asked social activists, seniors, political leaders and other respected members of the society to make people aware of the harmful practice of child marriage,” said Sah.

Amid the challenges, some wards of Banke have been declared as ‘child marriage free’. “Putting an end to child marriage is difficult but not impossible. People will agree if the approach is correct but it is easier said than done,” said Dhani Kumari Khatri, deputy chairperson of Rapti-Sonari Rural Municipality.

Alongside quality approach, Khatri argued that local levels should bring strict policies against the ill practice. “If anyone is found to have performed child marriage, they should be denied of state services like issuance of birth certificate and citizenship,” said Khatri.

Wards 3 and 7 of Rapti-Sonari have already been declared ‘child marriage free’. “Ward 6 was recently declared free of child marriage and is awaiting inspection. It was a difficult process because we needed to make people realize what is wrong with the tradition they have been following for generations,” said Janak Tharu, chairperson of Ward 6.

Several organizations, including Plan International Nepal and UNESCO have supported the campaign to declare local levels of Banke as areas free of child marriage. “With more people getting education, evil social practices have declined over the years but they have yet to be eradicated. Proper analysis and strategies are required to make more population aware,” said Pravej Ali Siddhiqui, coordinator of UNESCO club, Banke. (TRN)