Rape and Domestic Violence: Violence against women remained a problem. Under the civil code, prison sentences for rape vary between five and 15 years, depending on the victim’s age. The law also mandates five years’ additional imprisonment in the case of gang rape, rape of pregnant women, or rape of a woman with disabilities. The victim’s compensation depends on the degree of mental and physical abuse. The legal definition of rape includes marital rape for which the husband can be jailed for three to six months. The statute of limitations for filing rape charges is 35 days. Human rights groups highlighted concerns with the statute and implications for addressing sexual violence committed during the country’s 10-year conflict.
Most incidents of rape went unreported, although in the rape cases that were reported, police and the courts were responsive. During fiscal year 2013-14, there were 912 cases of rape and 414 cases of attempted rape filed with police, compared with 677 cases of rape and 245 cases of attempted rape in the previous fiscal year, according to the Women and Children Service Directorate, commonly known as the Women’s Police Cell, a special Nepal Police unit that investigated crimes against women and children.
Domestic violence against women remained a serious problem. There was much anecdotal evidence that physical and verbal abuse was common. Violence against women was believed to be one of the major factors responsible for the poor health of women, livelihood insecurity, and inadequate social mobilization. The domestic violence law imposes a fine of 3,000 to 25,000 rupees ($30 to $250), six months’ imprisonment, or both, on violators. Repeat offenders receive double punishment. Any person holding a position of public responsibility is subject to 10 percent greater punishment than a person who does not hold such a position. Anyone who does not follow a court order is subject to a fine of 2,000 to 15,000 rupees ($20 to $150), four months’ imprisonment, or both. Reports from women’s rights defenders suggested that the majority of cases of gender-based violence against women incidents were unreported. The Women’s Rehabilitation Center estimated that 25 percent of women who were survivors of violence sought medical care and 20 percent sought legal remedies. Dalit women in particular faced high levels of violence, and there were reports of cases of violations against widowed, divorced, and separated women, as well as women living in the hill regions.
Although the government passed the Domestic Violence (Crime and Punishment) Act in 2009, many security officials and citizens remained unaware of the law. The government’s effort to establish the structures necessary to implement the act successfully were uncoordinated and incomplete. Most domestic violence cases were settled through mediation, with an emphasis on reconciliation. Legal prosecution was usually an option only when mediation fails.
NGOs offered educational programs for police, politicians, and the general public aiming to promote greater awareness of domestic violence. Police had women’s cells in each of the country’s 75 districts, but they had minimal resources and untrained personnel to deal with victims of domestic violence and trafficking. Police instructions indicated that officers should treat domestic violence as a criminal offense, but this guidance was difficult to implement because of entrenched discriminatory attitudes. Beginning in April women’s rights activists staged a weekly hour-long sit-in to support their campaign to draw attention to violence against women. The protesters called on the government to establish a fast-track court to deal with rape cases.
Although the law generally prohibits polygamy, there are exceptions if the wife is infertile, sick, or crippled. According to the latest Nepal Demographic Health Survey in 2011, 4 percent of women and 2 percent of men lived in polygamous unions. Polygamists not covered under the above exceptions are subject to a one- to two-year prison term and a fine, but the second marriage is not invalidated.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): There are no laws specifically prohibiting FGM/C, but the practice did not occur in the country.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Despite laws prohibiting the practice, which include penalties of up to 10,000 rupees ($100) and prison sentences of up to three years, dowries remained common. According to traditional practice, a woman’s family must pay the husband’s family a predetermined amount based on the husband’s training and education. Women’s rights activists stated that the high cost of dowries was a leading cause of gender-based violence in the south-central district of Dhanusa, despite efforts to eradicate the practice. They claimed that in Dhanusa the cost of a dowry had increased over the past several years from the cost of a cow ($250) to 400,000-1,000,000 rupees ($4,000-$10,000), demanded in cash. Activists reported that many men left the country to work abroad to earn money to pay for family members’ dowries, which left the men’s wives more vulnerable to abuse. The tradition was also strong in the Tarai districts bordering India, and there were sporadic incidents of bride killing and attempted killing over dowry disputes. For example, on May 5, the husband, mother-in-law, and father-in-law of 19-year-old Rihana Sheikh Dhapali set her on fire for not providing a motorcycle and a water buffalo as part of her dowry. They then locked her in a room without medical treatment for two days. As of August she was undergoing treatment in Kathmandu, and the accused persons remained at large.
Traditional beliefs about witchcraft negatively affected rural women, especially widows, the elderly, persons of low economic status, or members of the Dalit caste. Shamans or family members publicly beat and otherwise physically abused alleged witches as part of exorcism ceremonies. The media and NGOs reported numerous cases of such violence during the year. There was no government mechanism to prevent such abuses or to provide compensation to those abused, but civil society organizations raised public awareness of the problem. Women accused of witchcraft were severely traumatized and suffered physical and mental abuse, including acts such as being fed human excreta, being hit with hot spoons in different parts of the body, being forced to touch hot irons or breathe in chili smoke, having their genitals perforated, or being banished from their community. According to Informal Sector Service Center, in 2013, 69 women accused of witchcraft were victims of violence, with an additional 20 victims in the first quarter of the year.
The practice of chhaupadi (expelling women from their homes, including forcing women to reside in cattle sheds during menstruation and sometimes following childbirth) continued to be a serious problem. The practice puts adolescent girls, women, and infants who are expelled with their mothers at risk of exposure to extreme elements and predators. The most recent Nepal Multi-Index Survey in 2010 reported that while 19 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 nationwide practiced chhaupadi, the problem was particularly acute in the hilly regions of mid- and far-west parts of the country, where approximately 50 percent did so. Women in Kathmandu also reported being forced to practice a less extreme form of chhaupadi and generally were not allowed in the kitchen or where any religious rituals were being practiced. Chhaupadi directly limited girls’ access to education for a large portion of the academic year.
Sexual Harassment: The law contains a provision against sexual harassment, with a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a fine of 10,000 rupees ($100). Sexual harassment was a problem, and government enforcement was weak. Lack of awareness about what constitutes sexual harassment led victims not to report many incidents. The private sector remained limited in developing proactive policies to address the practice.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals generally could decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of their children and were not subject to discrimination, coercion, or violence regarding these choices. Contraception was available to both men and women. According to the latest Demographic Health Survey in 2011, 43 percent of married women used a modern contraceptive method and 7 percent used a traditional method--approximately the same rate as in the prior survey in 2006--while 27 percent of married women had an unmet need for family planning.
According to the World Health Organization, the maternal mortality rate for 2013 was 190 deaths per 1,000 live births, down from 310 deaths in 2005. With more than 75 percent of the national health budget directed towards maternal and child care, the Ministry of Health endeavored to decrease maternal mortality by providing financial assistance to women seeking skilled delivery care in a health facility and to family planning services. Even so, skilled birth attendants assisted in only 36 percent of deliveries, according to the health survey.
Discrimination: Although the law provides protections for women, including equal pay for equal work, the government did not implement those provisions, including in many state industries.
Women faced systemic discrimination, particularly in rural areas where religious and cultural traditions, lack of education, and ignorance of the law remained severe impediments to the exercise of basic rights, such as the right to vote or to hold property in a woman’s name. The law grants women equal shares of their parents’ inheritance and the right to keep their property after marriage, but many women were not aware of their rights, and others were afraid to challenge existing practice. The law also grants widows complete access and authority to the estate of their deceased husbands. Traditional attitudes stigmatizing and shunning widows persisted, and communities often ignored the law, however, while the government did not take sufficient measures to enforce it.
While there are legal provisions to confer citizenship automatically through either Nepali parent, laws governing citizenship are ambiguous. Government officials often refused to grant citizenship documents based on the mother’s citizenship if a father’s identity was unknown or if he was a foreign citizen.
Despite the 2006 Gender Equality Act, discriminatory provisions remain in the law and in more than 60 other laws. For example, the law on property rights favors men in land tenancy and the division of family property. The law encourages bigamy by allowing men to remarry without divorcing if the first wife is incapacitated or infertile.
In an attempt to protect women from trafficking and abuse, the government maintained a prohibition on women under the age of 30 traveling to the Persian Gulf for domestic employment. According to Human Rights Watch, the regulation did not prevent trafficking or abuse but forced women to seek irregular channels to the Gulf, putting them at greater risk of exploitation. Antitrafficking NGOs reported that this was now the case, but no reliable data existed. Some NGOs also viewed the regulation as discriminatory because young men were not similarly prohibited from traveling to the Gulf.