DOLAKHA, Nepal — Suntali Thami grew up in a tiny village here in this remote district set in the foothills of the Himalayas.
Suntali’s precise age is not known, but the family estimates she is about 16 years old now, making her approximately 13 or 14 when she was married off to the hotel manager.
Soon after getting married, Suntali moved to her in-laws’ home in Sundrawoti Village, a collection of mud and brick houses set on a vibrant green-terraced mountain.
Suntali’s new home has dirt floors and no electricity.
Within a few months, the much older hotel manager took a liking to the pretty young girl with a sweet smile and decided to marry her.
Suntali did not want to marry him, she says, but she felt she had no option as it appeared to be the man’s choice.
As she talks, she sits on a straw mat outside her in-laws’ home as her baby named Durga sleeps under a blanket nearby and another baby, her niece Sita, with a head of thick, disheveled black hair, begins to cry.Suntali runs her hand through Sita’s hair as flies land around the infant’s eyes.Suntali is among the 51 percent of Nepalese who marry as children, according to the United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF).The practice carries with it devastating consequences for young girls’ health and well-being, child advocates say, and yet the social, economic and cultural pressures associated with the tradition make it difficult to end.Officially, it is against the law to marry under the age of 20, but these laws go ignored, particularly in remote areas.The child marriage rate is dropping in Nepal, yet the practice is still common among poor, rural families.