It’s Father’s Day weekend and while many of us will be celebrating the dads in our lives who have been there to shape us into who we are today, there is a devastating and widely hidden cultural pandemic occurring in the South Asian country of Nepal.
I love Father’s Day. I was raised by a single dad committed to his family and who always tried his best to do what was right. He introduced me to and instilled in me a lifelong love of video games, and he encouraged my curiosity when I began to teach myself how to design and code websites — a skill that I have retained and built upon throughout my adulthood and have even shaped my career around. He validated my passions, supported me as I found my voice and got involved in social justice activism, even if he didn’t fully understand or agree with my point of view himself, and he forgave me unequivocally each and every time I disappointed him.
For all intents and purposes, my dad became a father relatively young. He might not have been fully ready to put on the badge of ‘dad’ when he did, but he had the privilege of being an adult with a high school education and access to a job that paid well enough to financially support his family. But the child grooms of Nepal do not know this privilege; not even close.
Over the last several years we have been given intimate, soul-crushing depictions of child brides and the bleak lives many of them face after being forced to marry much older men. Their stories are heartbreaking, and they make us wonder how we can live in a world where this not only happens, but is a deeply ingrained part of a culture. But in some areas of the world, like in western Nepal, child brides marry child grooms.
CARE, a leading humanitarian organization dedicated to fighting global poverty with a commitment to empowering women and girls, has released a shocking report this Father’s Day that shines a light on the fathers some are more comfortable to leave in the dark and others don’t know exists. “Dads Too Soon: The Child Grooms of Nepal” is a multimedia report on the misfortunate and suffering of forced child marriage and the plight of boys who are forced to marry as young as 7, doomed to stay in poverty with their families, and the families they have no choice but to begin themselves as soon as possible.
Parashuram, a child groom of Nepal, was forced to marry when he was 9 years old. He wet himself at his wedding because he had no idea how to untie the ceremonial garment that was placed on him so that he could use the bathroom. When he was 12, he was pressured to produce a child, even though he hadn’t hit puberty yet. Speaking about his experience he blamed himself, saying, “I couldn’t do what was expected of me as a married man.”
Soon after the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal on April 25, CARE was able to reach tens of thousands of people with life-saving relief due to the relationship they have sustained with the people of Nepal since 1978. One of the fears the poverty-fighting organization has is that the natural disaster will further isolate rural communities, and it could intensify the economic pressure many families feel that fuel forced child marriage.
In Nepal’s Kapilbastu District, 12% of boys are married by age 14; 62% by age 19. Like child brides, child grooms endure psychological and physical trauma and usually drop out of school, pressured by the immediacy of having to support their wives and families. As painful as their stories are, former child grooms have become powerful voices in the movement to end child marriage in Nepal.
Emerging as key allies in the movement, former child grooms like Pannilal Yadev is sharing his story of how he was so young when he was married that he can barely recall it. Today, he works with CARE’s Tipping Point program, lending his story and life experience in hopes of changing people’s minds about child marriage, striking at the root of the pandemic to finally put an end to the custom of forcing children to trade their childhoods for marriage, a family, and poverty that they will never be able to rise up out of.
Forced child marriage is a human rights violation. Lend your support to CARE’s initiative to end child marriage by sending a letter to your Representative and Senators to make fighting child marriages a priority.