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. In October the president signed into law the Bill to Amend Some Nepal Acts to Maintain Gender Equality and End Gender-Based Violence, which increased the sentence for marital rape from three to six months’ imprisonment to three to five years’ imprisonment. The bill also extends the statute of limitations for filing rape charges from 35 days to 180 days. Human rights groups highlighted concerns with the statute, despite its extension, and its implications for addressing sexual violence committed during the country’s 10-year conflict. In March, after a six-year old girl from Bara district died as a result of being raped, women’s rights activists called on the government to toughen penalties for sexual assault and better address insecurity faced by women and girls throughout the country.
Reporting of rape increased, in part due to improved awareness, according to NGOs. For rape cases that were reported, police and the courts were responsive, and the government instituted a fast-track court system for hearing cases of rape, human trafficking, and other violent crimes. Between July 2014 and July 2015, 981 cases of rape and 562 cases of attempted rape were filed with police, compared with 912 cases of rape and 414 cases of attempted rape in the previous year, according to the Women and Children Service Directorate (WCSD) of the Nepal Police.
Rape, sexual violence, and other significant harms and forms of victimization suffered disproportionately by women during the country’s 10-year conflict remained unresolved and unaddressed. Men and boys also were victims of rape and sexual assault during the conflict.
Domestic violence against women and girls remained a serious problem. There was much anecdotal evidence that physical and verbal abuse was common. Violence against women and girls was believed to be one of the major factors responsible for women’s relative poor health, livelihood insecurity, and inadequate social mobilization. The Domestic Violence (Crime and Punishment) Act of 2009 allows for settling complaints of domestic violence through mediation, with an emphasis on reconciliation. Legal prosecution under the Act was usually only pursued when mediation failed. The act’s criminal provisions stipulate a fine of 3,000 to 25,000 rupees ($30 to $250), six months’ imprisonment, or both, for 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 incidents of domestic violence against women were unreported. According to the NGO INSEC, although police conducted training on enforcement of the Domestic Violence Act, most reported incidents were resolved through mediation and repeat violations after reconciliation by the same perpetrators were not uncommon. Nonetheless, the Women’s Rehabilitation Center (WOREC) stated that domestic violence cases were increasingly handled by women and children service centers (commonly known as women’s cells) of the Nepal Police and that in these instances the police were more responsive and treated the victims well. District women and children offices offered public education and psychosocial services, and operated hotlines and shelters in 35 districts to address all forms of gender-based violence.
NGOs offered educational programs for police, politicians, and the general public to promote greater awareness of domestic violence. The Nepal Police had women’s cells in each of the country’s 75 districts. The number of women’s cells and officers assigned to them increased substantially during the last two years. According to the WCSD, many women’s cells, especially those established during the year, were not fully operational, but the Nepal Police, with outside assistance, endeavored to build and improve their infrastructure and capacity. NGOs stated that despite improvements, resources and training to deal with victims of domestic violence and trafficking were insufficient. Although police guidelines call on officers to treat domestic violence as a criminal offense, this was difficult to implement outside of the women’s cells due to entrenched discriminatory attitudes.
The government took action to prevent and respond to gender-based violence in areas impacted by the April 25 earthquake. Women’s cell officers monitored displaced person camps, and authorities in cooperation with NGOs set up “safe spaces” for women in the camps. Civil society remained concerned about increased vulnerability of women and girls in the affected communities. WOREC reported an increase in incidents of violence against women and girls as displaced individuals moved from open spaces under tents to enclosed sheds, huts, and other private shelters.
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.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The constitution adopted in September criminalizes violence against or oppression of women based on religious, social, or cultural traditions and gives victims the right to compensation. According to traditional practice, a bride’s family must pay the husband’s family a predetermined amount, or dowry, based on the husband’s training and education. The practice of paying dowries is illegal, with penalties of up to 10,000 rupees ($100) and prison sentences of up to three years. Additionally, the Bill to Amend Some Nepal Acts to Maintain Gender Equality and End Gender-Based Violence, signed into law in October, stipulates that any psychological torture of women including asking for dowry, humiliation, physical torture, and shunning women for not providing a dowry is punishable. Nevertheless, dowries remained common, especially in the Terai region. Government agencies documented incidents of dowry-related violence, made recommendations for interventions, and occasionally rescued victims and offered them rehabilitation services.
The law does not allow mediation of dowry-related violence. NGOs nevertheless stated that local communities often pressure victims not to file criminal complaints of dowry-related violence, or to withdraw complaints, and then facilitate mediation between the victim and perpetrator. Women’s rights activists stated that the high cost of dowries significantly contributed to gender-based violence in much of the Terai region, where there were sporadic incidents of killing (or attempted killing) of brides over dowry disputes, despite efforts to eradicate the practice. Activists claimed that in Dhanusa district, for example, the cost of a dowry had increased over the past several years from the cost of a cow (25,000 rupees or $250) to 400,000 to one million rupees ($4,000 to $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.
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. Media and NGOs reported numerous cases of such violence, and civil society organizations raised public awareness of the problem. Women and in some instances men accused of witchcraft were severely traumatized and suffered physical and mental abuse, including 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 reports compiled by INSEC, 89 women accused of witchcraft were victims of violence in 2014, compared with 69 in 2013, with at least 14 victims in the first half of 2015. Government agencies recorded incidents of violence related to witchcraft allegations, recommended interventions, and occasionally rescued victims and offered them rehabilitation services; however, as with dowry-related violence, communities often forced victims into mediation with perpetrators in violation of the law.
In August the president signed into law the Anti-Witchcraft (Crime and Punishment) Act, the first legal mechanism to address directly such abuse. The law imposes prison sentences of five to 10 years and fines of up to 100,000 rupees ($1,000) for those who physically or mentally abuse women accused of being witches or men accused of sorcery. It also imposes prison sentences of up to five years for those who evict supposed witches or banish them from their communities. The first reported application of the new law occurred on September 9, when police arrested three individuals for beating and force-feeding human excreta to a 50-year-old man in Siraha district who was believed to have cast a “death spell” on his neighbor’s son. As of late September, the criminal case was pending, with three other suspects at large.
Acid attacks were not common, although one high-profile case sparked public concern that such incidents could become more prevalent. On February 22, Jiwan BK splashed acid on two adolescent girls at a tuition center in Kathmandu, reportedly as revenge over a family dispute. Police arrested BK on March 19 and charged him with attempted murder. As of late September, the case was pending.
The practice of chhaupadi (expelling women from their homes during menstruation and sometimes following childbirth, including forcing women to reside in cattle sheds) 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, predators, and infection. 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 in the country’s mid- and far-west, where approximately 50 percent of women followed the practice. Women in Kathmandu also reported being forced to practice a less extreme form of chhaupadi and generally were not allowed in the kitchen or any place where religious rituals were being practiced. Chhaupadi directly limited many girls’ access to education for a large portion of the academic year.
Sexual Harassment: The 2014 Sexual Harassment at the Workplace (Elimination) Act came into force in February. The law allows the top administrative official in a district to impose up to six months’ imprisonment, a maximum fine of 50,000 rupees ($500), or both, against a perpetrator, once a series of internal workplace processes to address a complaint have been exhausted. According to women’s rights activists, the new law provided adequate protective measures and compensation for victims, but the penalties were insufficiently severe and the law did not cover the informal sector, where sexual harassment was most common. NGOs and government officials stated it was too early to assess implementation. Prior to the law’s coming into effect, government enforcement of existing legal provisions against sexual harassment was weak. Lack of awareness about what constitutes sexual harassment led victims not to report many incidents. The private sector developed limited 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 UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF)-sponsored Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey conducted in 2014, 47 percent of married women used a modern contraceptive method and 2.5 percent used a traditional method. The 2014 survey indicated that 25 percent of married women had an unmet need for family planning.
According to the World Health Organization, the maternal mortality rate in 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 childcare, 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. Skilled birth attendants assisted in 56 percent of deliveries, according to the 2014 UNICEF-sponsored survey, a 20 percent increase from 2011.
Discrimination: Although the law provides protections, women faced systemic discrimination, including in employment (see section 7.d.). Discrimination was most common 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. Dalit women in particular faced discrimination by virtue of their gender and caste status. 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; however, traditional attitudes stigmatizing and shunning widows persisted, and communities often ignored the law, while the government did not take sufficient measures to enforce it.
Although the Gender Equality Act was adopted in 2006, 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. The new constitution, however, confers rights for women that had not previously received legal protection, including rights equal to those of their spouses in property and family affairs, and special opportunities in education, health, and social security.
The new constitution does not allow Nepali women married to foreign men to convey citizenship to their children independently (see section 2.d.) and has no specific provision for naturalization of foreign husbands married to Nepali wives.
In an attempt to protect women from trafficking and abuse, the government maintained a minimum age for women traveling overseas for domestic employment, although the government lowered the minimum age from 30 to 24 in April. NGOs viewed the age ban as discriminatory. In May 2014 the government also suspended the issuance of exit permits for all domestic workers, the vast majority of whom were women, but it was in the process of lifting this suspension as of late September. Although reliable data was not available, local migrant worker rights organizations asserted that these two restrictions did not prevent trafficking or abuse but forced women to seek irregular channels to major destination countries in the Persian Gulf, putting them at greater risk of exploitation.