Early marriage robs Dom girls of childhood

[2013-02-03 / Republica / JITENDRA KUMAR JHA ] RAJBIRAJ, Feb 2: Parbati Marik, of Chhinnamasta VDC-1 in Saptari, just turned 14. She was married three years ago and has already given birth to a daughter, who is one-year-old now. The teenage girl from marginalized and illiterate Dom community in the district, is again pregnant for four months now. “Giving birth to a child is beyond our control,” said Parbati shyly. “Parents married me off at an younger age, and I cannot describe what happened after that,” she added. Parbati´s two sisters — 9-year-old Lalita and 7-year-old Babita — were also married off a few months ago.The three sisters who were gathered in their parent´s house last week to attend a family function were of the opinion that they had to marry at the early age due to the tradition of their community. “Marriage is the responsibility of our parents and they married us off whenever they thought appropriate,” said 9-year-old Lalita.

The Dom sisters, who are not able to fend for themselves, have been robbed of their childhood itself as they are forced to look after their family and fulfill their duties toward the in-laws. They said even though they love to play like other children, they cannot do so in the in-law´s house.

“We cannot play with friends while in the in-law´s house,” said 7-year-old Babita, who got married four month ago. “My mother-in-law says that a daughter-in-law should not play outside as she has to do the household chores,” Babita added.

Lalita said she goes out to play with her friends when the in-laws are away for work. “Sometimes, I become fed up with the work at home. I go to play with other children when my husband takes the piglets away for grazing,” Lalita added.

The three sisters are representatives of all girls in the Dom community who share the same fate and are robbed of their childhood by early marriage. The Dom community marries off children at an early age fearing that they may not find good match when the children grow up. “It will be difficult to find a match for a girl or a boy, if they are older,” Tetar Marik, the father of the girls said.

According to Kisanti Marik, of Maledh VDC-3, most of the girls live in their husband´s house even if they are under age. She also informed that she married off all her five granddaughters at an early age. “After careful consideration, I married off my all five granddaughters at an early age and now they are happily living with their husbands and in-laws,” she added. She also recalled that she was just three when her parents married her off. “I was still suckling my mother´s milk when they married me off. I don´t remember my wedding, but still I am happy,” Kisanti further informed.

Little effects of the legal prohibition on child marriage can be seen on the backward Dom community in Tarai said Yuktilala Marik, a leader of the community.

“Only a few in the community know that child marriage is illegal. As the community remains backward both socially and financially, child marriage in the community continues unabated,” Yuktilal, who is also the chairperson of the Dom Upliftment Society in the district, said. While there are around 3,000 Dom people in the district, only 10 are SLC graduates.

Bhola Paswan, a mediaperson, who is studying the Dom community, said that the situation of the women in the community is further degraded as none of the Dom girls have studied upto the fifth grade. According to government figures, the Dom community occupies 0.04 percent of the total population of Nepal and 1 percent of the Madhesi population.