The results of a survey of 380 households, across four badly damaged districts, were all the more concerning given they were previously not priority areas for Plan’s child marriage programming or typical hot spots for child marriage prior to the earthquake.
It comes as Plan International increases its programming in the earthquake affected regions of Nepal, to provide girls and their families with information and tools for preventing child marriage.
“Once a child marries, it means her education comes to an abrupt end and she faces increased health risks associated with a pregnancy before her body has fully developed, along with increased health risks for her children,” said Sophie Shugg, Plan International Australia’s Senior Child Rights and Protection Advisor and former Nepalese resident.
Ms Shugg said child marriage was part of a broader problem of increasing child trafficking and exploitation.
“Girls are being trafficked to other regions, some less affected by the earthquake or across the border into India, as families are struggling to provide a shelter, food, and education for their children.”
“We know after major disasters, child traffickers move in to exploit the devastation that families are experiencing and this is happening in Nepal,” she said.
“When a family has lost their homes and their livelihood, a promise of taking a child to another region to access schooling, marriage or work can seem like a great opportunity, but the reality for those children ends up being very different.
Plan International has been working with local partners in Nepal to prevent child marriage and exploitation and has been intercepting trafficked children and educating communities around both issues.
At four checkpoints in earthquake affected districts, Plan International and its partners search thousands of vehicles each month looking for unaccompanied children who could be at risk.
In the past six months, around 250 children have been intercepted, and with the support of social workers they have been returned to their families. Families have also been provided with the support they need to reduce the risk of the child being trafficked again.
Plan International Australia has delivered a $600,000 program in partnership with the Australian Government which has protected more than 20,000 girls and boys.
“After the earthquake we established child safe areas which provided a space for children to be supervised and to learn and play, taking them off the streets where they could be exploited,” she said. “This is a temporary measure until we can get kids back into school.”
“Also, we have engaged the community, parents and children to provide information about the risk of child exploitation,” added Ms Shugg.
Crucial to addressing child marriage and child trafficking is to deliver aid to help affected families as quickly as possible. Plan International has provided building materials to rebuild homes, cash for work to clear debris and training for more than 500 people in trade skills to help rebuild structures.
Plan International will this month commence construction of 20 new earthquake resistant permanent schools in Nepal. Twelve of those schools are being funded by Australian donations and the Australian Government.
The $5 million Australian Government programme will provide schools for more than 3,500 children, but we still need an additional $5 million to deliver more classrooms to meet the needs of students,” said Plan International Australia’s Chief Executive Officer Ian Wishart.
“Tens of thousands of children have already spent a winter in temporary classrooms and if permanent facilities are not built soon, children will have to spend the coming monsoon season, and possibly even a second winter, in these same basic, weathered structures. We don’t want that to happen.”
“The Australian public has helped us deliver emergency aid to hundreds of thousands of Nepalese in the aftermath of the earthquake, but with only about 5% of the infrastructure rebuilt and most structures offering a temporary fix, so much is still to be done. As we mark the anniversary, there is a desperate need for more funds to help restore the country’s infrastructure including providing permanent schools that can withstand earthquakes in a region prone to the natural disaster,” added Mr Wishart.
Video, photos, infographics are available to the media from Plan International at no cost.