The Balami community of Okharpauwa has a rich tradition of cultural activities. Many of these traditional rites are very different from those of other ethnic groups in Nepal. But there are rites that clash with modern times. One of these is child marriage of children aged ten to twelve years.
Looking at historic Nepal about 600 or 700 years ago we find that child marriage was quite common in many ethnic groups. The rule was to marry children aged seven to ten years. These children then had to do domestic work in the household of their parents-in-law. These conditions were certainly not very fortunate. During the course of the centuries early childhood marriage became less and less frequent but not so in the Balami communities. They even developed special forms of child marriage. Normally a bride would be chosen and reserved when the son was only five years old. After this the parents of the bride would receive presents every year. The wedding would take place five to seven years after the bride was reserved. Such a reservation was like a vow. Breaking this meant that a compensation had to be paid. In Nepal's male-dominated society this only applied to the parents of the bride. Starting about ten to fifteen years ago more and more children were given the possibility to go to school. This made the social exclusion of girls even more obvious. Although a law was passed in 1993 banning child marriage in Nepal, not much changed. Marriage meant that the only option for a girl was doing the household chores and looking after the children. The pupils at the only primary school existing in Okharpauwa were almost only boys.
This lead to a generation conflict. More and more young people in the village became aware of the out-of-date situation. The older generation felt that “Girls are only good for housework. They must stay at home and learn from their mothers. This will help them to prepare for their own wedding. School education is not necessary for them.”€¯ In 2001 a youth group was founded who wanted to implement changes. They called themselves Mahalaxmi Janagariti Yuva Parivar in short MJYP. The group's actions against child marriage were militant in the beginning until they realised that lack of education was the main reason for this backwardness. With the help of GTZ (German Agency for Technical Cooperation) first steps were taken to make school education available to more and more children, especially girls. Initially this was done in groups outside school while at the same time adult information events were promoted.
When Little Stars took over the Okharpauwa project from GTZ in September 2006 there were only eight couples being married with one partner under 14 years of age. This approach was continued and expanded after taking over the project. The results achieved over the years can be measured in numbers. In 2006 there were far more girls than boys attending the out of school learning groups. Today out of school learning exists only in Ward 6 which is one part of the village. In all other parts of the village there is no need for this any longer since almost all children go to school. School attendance in Ward 8 of the village alone has increased by nearly 80%. The Mahalaxmi School operated by Little Stars is located in Ward 8.
Child marriage is now a thing of the past. During the last few years no couple married was under 18 years old. Girls are increasingly more self-assured. We send clear signals by employing more female than male teachers. There is still a long way to go but the direction is very clear. For the young generation the tradition of child marriage will not be part of their lives any more.