Radio soap opera challenges child marriages in Nepal

Do you have a 12-year-old cousin who will be marrying shortly? This is unthinkable in the West, but in Nepal, two out of three girls are married off before the age of 18. A radio soap opera broadcast by 56 local stations is intended to change this.

An arranged marriage can have huge consequences for a young girl’s future. Many girls are subjected to sexual violence, and underage pregnancy poses a strong threat to their health. And even as they see other girls their age going to school, the girls who have been married off see their dreams for their own life slip away, as well as their hopes of employment or personal development.

Sabita, a girl in Nepal

While Nepalese law prohibits child marriages, this legislation isn’t strictly enforced. Moreover, many citizens are actually unaware of this prohibition, and cultural conventions are very persistent: girls are seen as ‘chattel’ that can be traded and negotiated with. In Nepal, radio is a very popular and influential medium. That is why we work to raise people’s awareness of the negative impact of child marriage via the radio soap opera Mitini. So that millions of young Nepalese girls can hope for a better future.

Mitini’s protagonist is the Nepalese girl Sabita. Listeners are given a glimpse of her life, the problems she faces every day and possible solutions. Mitini focuses on child marriages and the benefits of education. It also deals with subjects like: how can young people and their parents or in-laws talk with each other? Each episode of the soap opera provides young people and their parents with handles for discussing potentially sensitive topics. Issues like inequality between men and women and sexual health.

Millions of listeners

Our Nepalese partner NEFEJ, an association of over 100 local radio stations in the country, is responsible for producing Mitini. Thanks to this extensive network, the soap opera is able to reach no fewer than 6 million young people and 15 million adults – including many listeners in remote rural areas. Every Saturday evening at 7 p.m., the audience can listen to a new 15-minute episode that recounts Sabita’s latest experiences. This episode is broadcast a second time later on in the week.

Does the soap opera actually have an effect? According to its listeners it does. “We often listen to Mitini’, says one mother, who lives in a slum. “We never used to give that much thought to child marriages – we have other things on our mind. But now, women here are openly opposing the marrying off of children.” One girl called us in early December: “I would like to thank you. Thanks to Mitini, we decided to intervene when a young girl in our village was forced to marry. We were unable to persuade the village elders and the parents, which is why we got the police involved. The marriage was called off.”

Telephone hotline

Mitini will be broadcast throughout Nepal for a total of three years. The soap opera is part of the programme ‘Save the Date’, through which Free Press Unlimited, dance4life and Child Helpline International work to improve the position of girls in Nepal. This includes an information programme for young people at school. They can also call a free telephone hotline, which is referred to in the broadcasts. Many children and adolescents have already made grateful use of this facility in 2016.

Partner since: 2006 | Start of project: 2016
Donor: Dutch Postcode Lottery
Contribution: € 150,000

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