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Making Thoughtful Choices

A Nepalese couple is inspired to teach other young people in their community

Love matches rarely happen in the small communities of Nepal, but Ram Kumar and Kaushalya Devi fell in love as adolescents. The couple married as teenagers, and now live in a small village 160 miles from Kathmandu.

Soon after the birth of Rahul, their son, Ram and Kaushalya, now in their early 20s, attended a general orientation for young married couples supported by the ACQUIRE Project, which was managed by EngenderHealth. Early marriage is very common in Nepal—girls marry at an average age of 16, and half bear at least one child by age 20.

“Before, we knew nothing about family planning or sexually transmitted infections,” Ram said. “Now we go to monthly meetings at our health clinic, where we discuss reproductive health issues, problems, and solutions with health workers and our peers.” They, along with other young married couples from the community, also gathered to discuss gender roles, the importance of women’s education and health, and how to plan a family. Ram and Kaushalya were inspired by the discussions and wanted to get more involved.

They participated in intensive training and are now leading frank discussions with other young couples about sexuality, family planning, and the potential hazards of early pregnancy. “Most young people find it easier to discuss sexuality with someone their own age,” Ram said. “They are at risk of sexually transmitted infections, and married adolescents are frequently expected to have children early. So they need counseling and services designed just for them.” Peer-to-peer conversations also help young people contend with the pressures of traditional society, empowering them to make informed decisions.

Ram and Kaushalya have encouraged their peers to seek reproductive health services at local health care facilities. There, providers have been trained to offer youth-friendly services, which include educating staff about the particular issues faced by adolescents (such as pressures to use drugs or have sex), about the use of role-playing activities to help providers teach young people negotiating skills (such as saying “no”), and about the need to keep the cost of services low or free. Ram said, “Health care providers, parents, and other members of our community are more sensitive to the feelings and needs of young people. And more people understand the negatives of child marriage.”

Their work as peer counselors has helped Ram and Kaushalya make thoughtful choices about their own future. With Ram’s support, Kaushalya finished high school, and she hopes that her children will eventually complete university. As she says, “We have decided that we only want to have two children, so we can make sure they are healthy and educated.”

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