Like 90 percent of the houses in Kagati village in the Kathmandu Valley, the one belonging to Niruta and Durga collapsed during the April 25 earthquake.
But the young couple is fortunate.
They survived the quake and violent aftershocks that flattened villages like theirs, killed nearly 9,000 people and injured 23,000 in Nepal this spring. And while nearly a half-million people were displaced, Niruta and Durga have shelter: each night, they huddle with their three small children in what used to be their cow shed.
Niruta was 14 years old, nine months pregnant and about to be married when she was first photographed in January 2007 by Too Young to Wed founder Stephanie Sinclair. Durga was only 17.
During a visit with Sinclair last year, both parents insisted that their own children would get an education and avoid early marriage, but that was before Nepal’s worst natural disaster in more than 80 years left the village’s school unsafe and family budgets stretched thinner than ever. Nepal already has one of the world’s highest child marriage rates – 41 percent of girls and 11 percent of boys are married before their 18th birthday – and humanitarian organizations warn that number could climb as families struggle to recover from the earthquake.
A portion of the proceeds from Too Young to Wed’s first print sale, extended through September 22 due to high demand, will be used to help Niruta and Durga rebuild their home and Kagati village restore its school. Though the school has been deemed structurally unsafe, many of its 560 students continue to gather there, desperate for shelter and an education.
Among them are Niruta’s 8-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son. Another daughter, born just before the quake, stays with Niruta and Durga during the day while they toil on the family’s farm.
“I am committed to sending my children to school,” Durga told Sinclair last year. “I want them to study as much as they can. Whatever I am doing, I am doing for them now. If they don’t study, they will become like us – or worse. We both work 12 to 13 hours a day, with just a two-hour rest, and then take care of our family. We have no days off.”
In Kagati village, the average age of marriage for girls had steadily risen from 12 to 15 in recent years. But the condition of the school and the economic hardships imposed by the quake threaten to reverse that progress.
Reestablishing the school as a safe haven is particularly important when it comes to reducing child marriage. According to CREHPA, a Nepalese group that campaigns against child marriage, girls who can’t attend school are considered more vulnerable to rape or trafficking. As a result, their parents may feel pressure to marry them off as a means of keeping them safe. Unfortunately, their early marriages often expose them to greater dangers, including complications from pregnancy, the leading cause of death among 15-to-19-year-old girls in developing countries.
Chakraman Shreshta Balami, a teacher at the village school, told Sinclair that he and other local teachers established a club aimed at educating parents and children about the dangers of early marriage and the importance of school. Progress has been slow, he said, but more families are pushing their children into the classroom and keeping their daughters in school longer. And the children are empowered to speak for themselves, he said.
“We pressured families to allow the children to continue their studies, even interrupting wedding preparations at times,” said Balami, who himself was a young groom. “Now our approach has changed, and we have educated the children to say no to their marriages.”
Niruta, now 22, said she wants all her children, daughters included, to marry as adults—and only after they’ve finished their educations.
“If they want to study, I will let them study as much as they want,” she said. “I would like them to wait until they are 25 or 30 to get married, because if you get married [young], you will become useless like me.”
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