Forced into marriage at 16
High up in the mountains of Rasuwa in northern Nepal, close to the Tibetan border, is the village of Gatlang. This tight-knit village of traditional stone houses and Buddhist stupas is home to the Tamang people: a Buddhist indigenous group for whom family life is strictly patriarchal. Marriage traditions here can be oppressive: when a man chooses a wife, the girls – many are as young as 14 – have little choice but to marry. Most then go on to have large families, meaning food, money and education are spread sparsely.
Jomini Tamang was just 16 years old when her parents forced her to marry. “I don’t want to get married,” she told them, but the wedding went ahead anyway.
Jomini lives in Gatlang, a remote village of traditional stone and carved wooden houses, high up in the mountains of northern Nepal, close to the Tibetan border. The people here are Tamang, a Buddhist ethnic group, and family life is strictly patriarchal. Many Tamang marry young – from around 14 years old – and girls tend to be pushed into marriage by both their parents and the young men who choose them.
“It’s not easy being married, it’s difficult,” says Jomini, whose husband is eight years older than her. “When I got married, I didn’t know anything about what happens after marriage, about the physical side.”
After a year of marriage, Jomini had her first child, a boy called Gauran, who is now two. Women like Jomini are expected to combine childcare with household chores and long shifts farming vegetables in the village fields.
“After the birth, I had many difficulties. Bringing up a child in this remote village was frightening and challenging, and Gauran was ill a lot".
Giving birth at a young age can lead to severe physical complications or death, and maternal mortality is one of the leading causes of death for women in Nepal. Only 60% of women receive skilled antenatal support.
Luckily for Jomini, shortly after Gauran’s birth, the Family Planning Association of Nepal (FPAN), Nepal’s leading family planning NGO, stepped in to help. Jomini met Pasang Tamang, a local woman who works as a reproductive health female volunteer for FPAN. Through Pasang, Jomini learned about different contraceptive methods and, with careful advice and support, was able to think through which might be best for her.
She opted for the contraceptive injection, and says she is much happier now: contraception has given her more freedom, and the space to think clearly about when to have another child.
Jomini’s experiences have convinced her to do everything possible to enable her children to live happier lives, less constrained by patriarchy and marriage. If she has a daughter, “I will tell her not to get married at an early age like her mum, and that if she does, she will suffer,” she says. “I will advise her to study more so she can work.”
“And I will advise my son the same! Study more and wait til you are more mature to get married.”
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