Featured: Gurungs, Jimdārs, Limbu, Newar


In Nepal, where the average age of first marriage is 19 years, 7 per cent of girls are married before they are 10 years old, and 40 per cent before they are fifteen[1] [2] [3] [4]. “Auch wenn Kinderheirat offiziell verboten ist (Mindestalter: Mädchen 16 Jahre, Jungen 18 Jahre), wird sie in Nepal noch oft praktiziert. Dies gilt stärker für die hinduistische als für die ethnische Bevölkerung und innerhalb der Hindus ganz besonders stark für das Tarai”[5]. Nepalese Brahman women were often married before menarche to guarantee premarital virginity (Stone, 2000:p92)[6]; her husband would be a few years older. In a former study, it appeared that among the ethnic groups, the Maithilis of the Terai and Parbatiya of the hills have the highest number of child marriages[7]. Current legal age of marriage is sixteen, eighteen without parental consent.


In a recent study[8] among 100 (73 male) patients giving histories suggestive of sexually transmitted disease (STDs) and attending a dermatology department, eleven percent had their first sexual contact at or below the age of 15 years.


“A recent survey in Kathmandu found that the age of first sexual intercourse for males is 21 years and 20 years for females (UNAIDS & UNICEF 2001). Indications are that the average age of first male-to-male sex is likely to be much lower than this. The majority of respondents said that their first sexual experiences with other men occurred in their teenage years. In a high number of cases first sex with another man or boy occurred before puberty”[9].


'Gupha basne, the female initiation rite when the girl gets her first menstruation. It marks the transition of a girl from presexual to a sexual being. Gupha basne means “staying in the cave”, and the most important feature is the seclusion of the girl in a dark room (Bennett 1983:235-236)[[10]]. However, it is not considered as one of the orthodox life-cycle rituals (samskara). Though this ritual is of special importance regarding purity and pollution, it does not affect the girl’s karma in a way corresponding to the way the bartamande affects a boy. The women become karma caleko only after the marriage ceremony, whether it is before or after the gupha basne (ibid:59).'


'If the girl is married before the menarche, she acquires the caste of her husband automatically, and if she marries afterwards the children become “half-breeds” (Parry 1994:111). The maiden’s father will be duly rewarded in heaven by giving her away in marriage for the continuance of his ancestral line (Prasad 1993:76). [...] If the bride was married after the menarche, the bride’s parents should donate a cow’s calf to the bridegroom’s parents as a compensation for her loss of purity. Since the bride should be married before her first menstruation, she would have achieved the state of karma caleko before gupha basne, and therefore the latter rite would be without importance for her karma.’


From: Terje Oestigaard (2000) The Deceased's Life Cycle Rituals in Nepal: Present Cremation Burials for the Interpretations of the Past. BAR International Series 853. Oxford





Among the Gurungs (Messerschmidt, 1976:p50, 51)[11], the Rodi (youth club) is joined at age eight or nine, first at a kol-mai for young girls (8-13), where they may find “fun”, or “affection, love”, or at least understanding of each other’s natures.





Among the Jimdārs (Rais), boys and girls are separated at age five, and are henceforward not supposed to talk together in public. Meetings are arranged using younger children as messengers. Adolescent courtship lasts a few weeks to several months, and although not including “love play”, is said to be based on sexual attractiveness (Barnouw, 1955:p17-8)[12].





After puberty, boys and girls form dhān nāch partners, a tradition of going steady associated with informal dancing (Jones, 1977:p295)[13]. The get-togethers “showed no signs of being occasions for clandestine love affairs”.



See also Newar




Further references:


·        CRLP (2004) Women of the World: Laws and Policies Affecting Their Reproductive Lives: South Asia. []

·        Dhital, R. (1992) Child Prostitution in Nepal: Voice of the Child-workers in Kathmandu, Nepal (CWIN), No. 15/16, December 1992

·        Pradhan, Ajit & Strachan, Molly (January, 2003) Adolescent Reproductive Health in Nepal: Status, Issues, Policies, and Programs. []

·        Thapa, Sh. (1996) Girl child marriage in Nepal: its prevalence and correlates, Contributions to Nepalese Studies [Kirtipur] 23,2:361-75

·        Indian Health Organisation (July 1993) Tulasa and the Horrors of Child Prostitution. Bombay: IHO, found here





Janssen, D. F., Growing Up Sexually. VolumeI. World Reference Atlas. 0.2 ed. 2004. Berlin: Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology

Last revised: Apr 2005


[1] Learning From Experience, SCF UK []

[2]Dhital, R., Child Marriage in Nepal. CWIN Nepal. 13 Sept. 2001 []

[3] Choe, M. K., Thapa, Sh. & Mishra, V. (2004) Early Marriage and Early Motherhood in Nepal, J Biosoc Sci(first published online 2004) 00, 1–20 []

[4]Thapa, S. (1996) Girl child marriage in Nepal: its prevalence and correlates, Contributions to Nepalese Studies23:361–75

[5]Sherpani, Lhakpa & Karl-Heinz Krämer (1995) Verhalten in NepalLänderverhaltenspapier, Heft 53. Zentralstelle für Auslandskunde der Deutschen Stiftung für internationale Entwicklung (DSE), Bad Honnef, p12 []

[6] Stone, L. (2000) Kinship and Gender.Oxford: Westview Press. 2nd ed.

[7] Figures before age ten, girls: Maithili: 23%; Parbatiya: 14.85%; Newar: 2.2%. No marriages before age ten were seen in the Rai and Tamang.

[8] Garg, V. K., Agarwalla, A., Agrawal, S., Deb, M. & Khanal, B. (2001) Sexual habits and clinico-etiological profile of sexually transmitted diseases in Nepal, J Dermatol 28,7:353-9

[9] Boyce, P. (December 2001) Rapid Ethnography of Male to Male Sexuality and Sexual Health. Family Health International. Kathmandu, Nepal, p24

[10] Cf. Bennett, L. (1978) Sitting in a cave: an analysis of ritual seclusion at menarche among Brahmin and Chhetris in Nepal, Contributions to Nepalese Studies 6:32-45

[11] Messerschmidt, D. A. (1976) The Gurungs of Nepal. Warminster, England: Aris & Phillips

[12] Barnouw, V. (1955) Eastern Nepalese marriage customs and kinship organization, Southeast J Anthropol 11:15-30

[13] Jones, R. L. (1977) Courtship in an Eastern Nepal community, Anthropos 72:288-99