Despite the legal age for marriage being 18, 41% of girls in Nepal marry when they are children. Nepal also has the second highest adolescent pregnancy rate in South Asia with more than 80 girls per 1,000 aged 15 – 19 giving birth every year.
Due to the expectation that young mothers serve as household caretakers, a large proportion of girls in Nepal who marry young tend to drop out of school.
Our experience in dealing with emergencies has shown that child marriage and teenage pregnancy increase as a result of disasters like the 2015 earthquake.
Right to protection
In response, Plan International has established a number of adolescent friendly spaces for girls aged 12-18. These spaces allow girls to access their right to protection and receive sexuality education which informs their ability to make decisions about their sexual health. They have also allowed the needs of girls who are married, pregnant or young mothers to be addressed in a safe, trusting environment free of discrimination.
The adolescent friendly space has shown me that I have value and a choice in my life
Among those who have attended adolescent friendly spaces in Dolakha district is Maya*, 16. “After being married, my only fear was that I would not be able to go back to school. But, luckily, my parents supported me. I want to continue studying and become a nurse.”
While many girls Maya’s age spend their free time with friends and family, Maya has different responsibilities. At 16, she is a mother and wife.
Maya met her husband Keshav* at school. “They were friends first. It would have been better if they waited. There is a lack of sex education in school, so girls get pregnant early,” explains Keshav’s father.
Groups at adolescent friendly spaces meet over a 5 month period on a daily basis. They are taught by a volunteer facilitator on issues ranging from sexual and reproductive health to gender-based violence. Topics like menstruation and sexually transmitted infections are normally too taboo to discuss within the home. It is often at these classes that girls openly discuss these issues for the first time.
Breaking down taboos
“At first, we felt shy to discuss our personal issues, but then we became very close. I am comforted knowing that I am not the only person who has faced these challenges. There are other girls like me. The adolescent friendly space has shown me that I have value and a choice in my life. I now feel like I can start thinking of a future,” Maya says.
Now that she has attended the adolescent friendly space, Maya tells younger girls in her community, “As a girl, you already face a lot of barriers. It is better to focus on your own goals and complete your studies.”
Plan International will continue to run adolescent friendly spaces across Dolakha, Sindhupalchowk, Makwanpur and Sindhuli districts. These activities are being held in remote, hard-to-reach and marginalised communities.
In total, Plan International will support more than 11,000 boys and girls through child protection counselling and services.
*Names have been changed for child protection reasons.