Rape and Domestic Violence: Violence against women and girls 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 Bill to Amend Some Nepal Acts to Maintain Gender Equality and End Gender-Based Violence, which was signed into law in October 2015, 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. Despite its extension of the statute of limitations, human rights groups highlighted concerns with the act and its implications for addressing sexual violence committed during the country’s 10-year conflict.
Many incidents of rape went unreported although NGOs stated that reporting has increased, in part due to improved awareness. For rape cases that were reported, police and the courts were responsive. According to NGOs, police frequently prioritized cases of sexual violence, and the District Court Regulations stipulates that judges should expedite cases of rape, human trafficking, and other violent crimes.
Rape, sexual violence, and other forms of victimization suffered disproportionately by women and girls 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, with human rights organization INSEC reporting an increase in incidents of reported domestic violence during the year, in part due to increased awareness. 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. Additionally, NGOs reported that the practice of early and forced marriage, which remained prevalent, limited girls’ access to education and increased their susceptibility to domestic violence and sexual abuse. 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 pursued only when mediation failed. The act’s criminal provisions stipulate a fine of NRs 3,000 to 25,000 ($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 NRs 2,000 to 15,000 ($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 and girls were unreported, although reporting has increased, in part due to improved awareness. According to 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. In addition, cases of severe domestic violence are sometimes filed under the Domestic Violence Act rather than as crimes with greater punishments, such as assault, battery, or attempted murder. 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 better. 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, including violence that affects child brides. According to the Ministry of Women, Children, and Social Welfare, although the government shelters welcome victims of child marriage into the shelters, the number of such victims seeking shelter and support is near zero.
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 staffed by female officers in each of the country’s 75 districts to make it easier for women and girls to report crimes to the police. The number of women’s cells and officers assigned to them increased substantially during the last three years. According to the Women and Children Service Directorate, many women’s cells 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. NGOs reported that girls, including those forced into early marriage, are less aware of their rights and are more susceptible to social pressure. As a result, they are less likely to file a complaint with the police or seek services from the government or NGOs.
The Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers’ 2011 standard operating procedure for prevention of and response to gender-based violence (GBV) has led to the establishment of service centers in 17 districts, rehabilitation centers in eight districts, and hospital-based one-stop crisis management centers in 17 districts to provide treatment, protection, and psychosocial and legal support for survivors of GBV. Gender experts say the standard operating procedure has led to improved coordination among police, NHRC, National Women’s Commission, chief district officers, local authorities, community mediation centers, and NGOs working to address violence against women and girls. In remote areas, however, awareness of resources for women and girls and the ability of the government to enforce legislation governing GBV and child marriage remained low.
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 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 NRs 10,000 ($100) and prison sentences of up to three years. Additionally, the 2015 Act to Amend Some Nepal Acts to Maintain Gender Equality and End Gender-Based Violence stipulates that any psychological abuse 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, recommended 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 (NRs 25,000 or $250) to between NRs 400,000 and NRs two million ($4,000 to $20,000), demanded in cash. In some cases, as part of a pre-dowry agreement, the bride’s family will pay the tuition fee for the bridegroom to pursue academic study. 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, 51 women accused of witchcraft were victims of violence in 2015, compared with 89 in 2014, with at least 12 victims in the first half of 2016. 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.
The 2015 Anti-Witchcraft (Crime and Punishment) Act, the first legal mechanism to address directly such abuse, imposes prison sentences of five to 10 years and fines of up to NRs 100,000 ($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. Information was unavailable on the number of individuals prosecuted under the act in 2016. INSEC stated that because the act was passed in August 2015, people remained confused about which law to cite in registering and prosecuting anti-witchcraft cases.
The practice of “chhaupadi” (expelling women and girls from their homes during menstruation and sometimes following childbirth, including forcing women and girls to reside in cattle sheds) continued to be a serious problem. Chhaupadi persists despite a 2005 Supreme Court decision outlawing the practice and guidelines on eliminating it issued in 2008 by the Ministry of Women, Children, and Social Welfare. 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 allows the top administrative official in a district to impose up to six months’ imprisonment, a maximum fine of NRs 50,000 ($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 law provides adequate protective measures and compensation for victims, but the penalties are insufficiently severe and the law does not cover the informal sector, where sexual harassment is most common. According to INSEC, no reports of incidents of sexual harassment were filed under the act during the year. NGOs and government officials stated it was too early to assess implementation of the act, which came into force in February 2015.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals generally could decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Due to the prevalence of child marriage, however, many girls faced social pressure to have children before being emotionally ready and before their bodies are able to bear children safely. 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. In addition, awareness of contraception and family planning practices remained limited in remote areas.
According to the World Health Organization, the maternal mortality rate in 2015 was 258 deaths per 100,000 live births, down from 444 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. Preliminary findings from the Health Facility Survey released in April note that antenatal care services are available to 98 percent of women and services for sexually transmitted infections are available in 74 percent of facilities, on average. Normal childbirth delivery services are available in about half of facilities countrywide, but in only 33 percent of facilities in Terai region.
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.
The Gender Equality Act adopted in 2006--and more than 60 other laws--contain discriminatory provisions. 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 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 constitution does not allow Nepali women to convey citizenship to their children independent of the citizenship of the child’s father (see section 2.d.) and has no specific provision for naturalization of foreign husbands married to Nepali wives.