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Photograph: EPA/NARENDRA SHRESTHA

Nepal’s poverty, traditional practices, patriarchy and gender discrimination have led to the country having one of the highest rates of child marriages in Asia, a leading rights group said Thursday.

Thirty-seven per cent of girls marry before they are 18, and 10 per cent before 15, according to a report released by New York-based Human Rights Watch, criticizing the government for failing to combat child marriage in the impoverished country.

Early this year, Nepal pushed back its goal of ending child marriages, from 2020 to 2030, saying that it needed more time to eradicate the widespread practice.

But rights groups say the government was not doing enough to tackle the problem.

“Many children in Nepal — both girls and boys — are seeing their futures stolen from them by child marriage,” Heather Barr, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch said in a press conference in Kathmandu.

“Nepal’s government promises reform, but in towns and villages across the country, nothing has changed.”

Boys are also victims of the practice, but researchers found girls were more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

“They get married and drop out of school. Girls usually get pregnant and have babies one after another. There are serious health consequences for the girls and their children. Girls who get married early are likely to be victims of violence than women,” Barr said.

The report identified poverty, lack of access to education, child labour, social pressure and dowry practices as driving factors for child marriage.

A victim identified by the pseudonym Nutan C, who was married at 16, said she wasn’t consulted before her marriage.

“I had an arranged marriage and I had no say in that — I had no say in getting pregnant as well,” the mother of a 4-year-old girl told researchers.

The report entitled “Our Time to Sing and Play: Child Marriage in Nepal” is based on interviews of 149 people across Nepal, including 104 married children and young adults who married as children.

Under Nepali law, both men and women can marry at age 20.

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