How the world gets married…

Posted on November 14, 2011


One of our fellow PhD students is getting hitched this weekend (best wishes to Luke and Renya)!

Our friend’s wedding is of course a traditionally ‘western marriage’, whereby they have fallen deeply in love and have decided to bite the bullet (after almost a 10 year courtship. Good on you Luke!)

Although most people that have grown up in western countries, cannot fathom the idea of marrying someone that has been chosen by our parents (for me that would undoubtedly have meant marrying a Australian-raised Latin boy with a name like Ricardo), it is incredibly interesting to speak to young educated Nepalis, who normally have marriages that are arranged by their parents.

In some ways, the idea of my parents choosing a ‘Ricardo’ for me sounds completely ridiculous. My taste in men could not be further from the stereotypes that are Antonio Banderas and Ricky Martin (he was all Latin women wanted back in the day when he was in the closet).

In other ways, I think many of us would also find great comfort in knowing that your parents ‘have your back’ so to speak. That no matter what, you will get married, a milestone traditionally required to successfully “transition into adulthood”.

Imagine all the time and effort (and heartache and stress) we would save when not faced with the impossible task of ‘finding THE one’?

In Nepal, arranged marriages are not perceived as ‘forced’ (at least not by the people I have spoken to, BUT I am sure there are people out there who are unhappy with their hand-picked ‘Ricardo’ ).  In truth, many of the people I have spoken with during my trips, prefer arranged marriages.

As they see it, by marrying someone of their parents’ choosing, they are showing respect to their parents and ancestors, traditional beliefs and culture.

And what about the excitement of getting to know the other person? or the disappointment when you find out their annoying habits? or the overwhelming feeling of falling in love with that person?

Well, all of that still happens! It just happens AFTER you get married instead of BEFORE.

Photograph by Steve McCurry. Traditional Mehendi: More of an Indian ritual than Nepali, in which the bride, groom, and other members of the wedding party get their hands and arms painted in rococo patterns with henna paste.

In reality however, remaining objective about arranged marriages is difficult when you consider that some arranged marriages around the world still involve children.

In Nepal, 7% of girls are married before they are 10 years old and 40% of girls are married by the time they are 15 [1].

From a health perspective, marriage at an early age poses great risks for young girls and unborn children.  Not only does early marriage interfere with a girl’s education, a number of studies have shown a significantly higher infant mortality rate for children born to adolescent mothers and a higher maternal mortality for teen-age mothers. High morbidity and mortality rates among teen-age mothers and their offspring are generally attributed to the immaturity of a girl’s reproductive system during pregnancy [2].

(Sorry for the downer!)

HOWEVER, in the spirit of remaining objective to different cultures, traditions and rituals surrounding the act of marriage around the world, I am including a link to a photo essay called: “How the World Gets Married”.

Happy wedding day Luke and Renya!


A & T


[1] Save the Children (2004). State of the World’s Mothers 2004: Children having children.

[2] Drake AJ and Walker BR. (2004). The intergenerational effects of foetal programming: non-genomic mechanisms for the inheritance of low birth weight and cardiovascular risk. Journal of Endocrinology 180, pg 1–16.