The age-old tradition of child-marriage among the Balamis in Kagatigaun, Nuwakot, met with some stiff opposition this year. It took all the courage of fifth-grader Sabitri Balami and sixth-grader Akhbari Shrestha to defy the tradition that propels hundreds of underage children into unfair marriages every year. The parents of the two children had arranged for their marriages to take place on Saraswoti Puja day, in keeping with the Balami's tradition in Okharpauwa VDC. The two children submitted a written appeal to the VDC office in Okharpauwa, as well as the local Janjagriti Yuva Club asking that their marriage be stopped. And, under the stewardship of the VDC office, the marriage of Sabitri and Akhabari has been postponed for at least five years.
Kanchhi Balami, Akhabari's mother, threatened to commit suicide if she was not allowed to marry her son off on the auspicious day. Kanchhi only agreed to postpone the marriage when her equally determined son countered this with his own threat of suicide. It took similar threats and counter-threats in Sabitri's family to convince the would-be child bride's parents to agree to the postponement of the marriage. Other child brides and grooms followed suit, and barring two, all child marriages in Kagatigaun scheduled for this Saraswoti Puja were postponed.
Sixteen-year-old Aitaram Balami and 15-year old Radhika Balami are one of the two underage couples whose marriage went ahead as per their parents' wish. "Aitaram and Radhika are at least close to the legal age of marriage-we will work towards creating public pressure to eliminate child marriage from our village from next year," says Balaram Shrestha, president of the Janajagriti Yuba Club that is leading the anti-child marriage campaign in Kagatigaun.
It is believed that Balamis of Okharpauwa VDC migrated from Bhaktapur, and parents in this community have traditionally arranged their children's marriages at birth. The tradition also demands that the marriage be carried out on Saraswoti Puja day, as soon as possible after the girl crosses seven.