The Life and Future of Child Widows in Nepal

5th July 2012

People associate Nepal with Mount Everest, the focal point of the Himalayan Mountain Range, Buddhism, amazing scenery, and fantastic trekking. Some people see the beauty, the slow pace of life, monks in red robes, and assume that due to Buddhism everyone is happy and content with life even though they live in one of the poorest and least developed counties in the world. The stark reality is that Nepal has a dark side.

Child widows are a socio-economic problem that is rampant in Nepal.  When people hear the word widow, they immediately think of old women whose husbands have died before them. However, in Nepal, the case of child widows starts in their early childhood. Some of them are married before the age of ten and then they can be widowed before they even reach the age of 13. When widowed, the countryside society often ostracizes these girls.

 

Nepal is a very religious country where people strictly follow the teachings of the main religion, Hinduism. Of course, there is a minority of other religions such as Buddhism, Muslim, and Christianity. In Hinduism, however, people believe in bad luck or bad karma. The death of a young husband from natural causes is considered an act of bad karma. In the countryside the child widows, known as Bekalayas who are often 13 or younger, are held responsible for creating this bad karma. The conservative society therefore blames the widowed child for the death of their husband.  Because of this belief, child widows are stripped of their basic, societal, and even legal rights, as people believe it would bring bad luck should they value the existence of the widows.

 

Child widows are barred from dressing colourful clothes and they are only allowed to wear white clothes or sari. They cannot eat fish or meat and they cannot attend any social gatherings such as a wedding as people believe they would bring bad luck to whoever is celebrated in the event. Some do not even have a citizenship in their own country because they were widowed early in childhood. Nepal is a very patriarchal country where men, such as fathers, brothers, and husbands have the only right to nominate the women for citizenship. Unfortunately, when the husband dies, the child widow cannot return to her family and she has often to stay with her husband's family. This will be very hard for the child widow as maltreatment, physical and sexual abuse is common.

 

Because of the poor life that child widows will live for the rest of their lives, many organizations have vowed to help the girls establish a good life for themselves and fight against the rules set by the society. NGO's such as Women for Human Rights (WHR) create awareness for this matter and addresses the problems brought by the discrimination of child widows. The WHR movement encourages the child widows to show confidence and speak out to let the society hear their side. Their empowerment training helps the children and the young widows a lot, as they realize that there is still hope for their lives. The training also gives vital information about their different rights be it basic, social, and legal. The prospects for child widows are slowly improving but there is lots more work to be done.

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