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 torture. The legal definition of rape includes marital rape for which the husband can be jailed for three to six months. Most incidents of rape went unreported, although in those rape cases that were reported, police and the courts were responsive. During fiscal year 2012-13, there were 677 cases of rape and 245 cases of attempted rape filed with police, compared with 555 cases of rape and 156 cases of attempted rape in the previous fiscal year, according to the Women’s Police Cell, a special Nepal Police unit that investigated crimes against women.
Domestic violence against women remained a serious problem. While few cases were reported, there was much anecdotal evidence that physical and verbal abuses were common. Violence against women was 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.
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 rather than legal prosecution.
NGOs offered educational programs for police, politicians, and the general public aimed to promote greater awareness of domestic violence. Police have 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 directives instruct officers to treat domestic violence as a criminal offense, but the directives were difficult to enforce because of entrenched discriminatory attitudes. In September the National Alliance of Women Human Rights Defenders, in collaboration with two dozen other organizations, launched a three-month nationwide campaign against rape, calling for amendments to rape-related laws and establishment of 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 2011 Nepal Demographic Health Survey, 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.
Harmful Traditional Practices: Despite current 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. The tradition was strong in the Tarai districts bordering India, and there were sporadic incidents of bride killing over dowry disputes. For example, in April, according to press reports, Samyukta Devi’s husband, brother-in-law, and mother-in-law doused her in kerosene and then burned her to death because of dowry and property disputes. More often husbands or in-laws seeking additional dowry from the woman’s family physically abused wives or forced women to leave so the men could remarry.
Traditional beliefs about witchcraft negatively affected rural women, especially widows, the elderly, persons of low economic status, or members of the lower 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 such acts 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.
The practice of chhaupadi (expelling women from their homes, often to cattle sheds, during menstruation and sometimes following childbirth) continued to be a serious problem. The practice puts women and their breast-feeding babies at risk of exposure to extreme elements and predators. The Nepal Multi-Index Survey 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 Nepal, 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.
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.
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 2011 Nepal Demographic Health Survey, 43 percent of married women used a modern contraceptive method, while 27 percent of married women had an unmet need for family planning.
From 2006 to 2011, 58 percent of mothers received prenatal care from a doctor, nurse, or midwife; 26 percent received care from trained health workers, such as a health assistant, auxiliary health worker, or village health worker; and 15 percent received no prenatal care. The country reduced its maternal mortality rate from 539 per 100,000 births in 1996 to 281 per 100,000 births in 2010. Factors contributing to this reduction included a significant decline in the fertility rate, an increase in skilled birth attendance and coverage of antenatal care, and a reduction in anemia among pregnant women. 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, which also reported that 43 percent of women had a postnatal checkup in the first two days after birth.
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.
While citizenship is automatically conferred through either Nepali parent (see Children, below), 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 national.
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 becomes 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 region for domestic employment. According to Human Rights Watch, the regulation does not prevent trafficking or abuse but forces women to seek irregular channels to the Gulf region, putting them at greater risk of exploitation. Antitrafficking NGOs have reported that this is 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 region.