Nepal is a federal democratic republic. The 2015 constitution established the political system, including the framework for a prime minister as the chief executive, a bicameral parliament, and seven provinces. In 2017 the country held national elections for the lower house of parliament and the newly created provincial assemblies. Domestic and international observers characterized the national elections as “generally well conducted,” although some noted a lack of transparency in the work of the Election Commission of Nepal.
The Nepal Police are responsible for enforcing law and order across the country. The Armed Police Force is responsible for combating terrorism, providing security during riots and public disturbances, assisting in natural disasters, and protecting vital infrastructure, public officials, and the borders. The Nepal Police and Armed Police Force report to the Ministry of Home Affairs. The Nepali Army is responsible for external security and international peacekeeping, but also has some domestic security responsibilities such as disaster relief operations and nature conservation efforts. The Nepali Army reports to the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities maintained effective authority over the Nepal Police, Armed Police Force, and Army. Human rights organizations documented some abuses by members of the security forces.
Significant reported human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment by the government; arbitrary detention; serious restrictions on free expression, the press and the internet, including site blocking and criminal defamation laws; interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive nongovernmental organization laws; restrictions on freedom of movement for refugees, notably resident Tibetans; and significant acts of corruption.
The government investigated but did not routinely hold accountable those officials and security forces accused of committing violations of the law. Security personnel accused of using excessive force in controlling protests in recent years did not face notable accountability nor did most conflict-era human rights violators.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including marital rape, is illegal, with minimum prison sentences that 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 women with disabilities. The victim’s compensation depends on the degree of mental and physical abuse. Nepal’s definition of rape does not include male victims. Male victims may file a complaint under the ‘unnatural’ sexual offense penal code; the highest punishment is up to 3 years imprisonment and a fine.
Police and the courts were responsive in most cases when rape was reported, although several high-profile cases highlighted the government’s failure to secure justice for rape victims. In May, Angira Pasi, a 13-year-old Dalit girl, was raped by Birenda Bhar, a 25-year-old non-Dalit man in Rupandehi District, Devdaha Municipality. Villagers, including the ward chair, decided the girl should marry Bhar, because she would otherwise be considered unsuitable for marriage due to the rape. After the marriage, Bhar’s mother refused to let Pasi enter the house and beat her. Bhar took Pasi to a nearby stream and hours later her body was found hanging in a manner that her relatives said would have been impossible for her to carry out herself. Bhar’s family offered 200,000 rupees ($1,690) to keep the incident quiet, and police initially refused to register the case. After the NHRC and national attention focused on the case, police detained Bhar, his mother, and his aunt.
In July 2018, 13-year-old Nirmala Panta was raped and killed in Kanchanpur district. A government panel that reviewed the police response found that investigators acted with grave negligence and destroyed key evidence in the case. In March 2019 the district court charged eight police personnel for tampering with evidence. On July 30, the Kanchanpur District Court acquitted these eight personnel, including former Superintendent of Police Dilliraj Bista, of torture and incriminating evidence. Human rights groups noted irregularities leading up to the trial including that the Kathmandu-based lawyers arguing for the victim’s family requested the hearing be postponed due to COVID-19 restrictions on air travel. The court cited the end of the government lockdown and continued with the hearing.
Human rights activists outside of Kathmandu expressed concern that police frequently refused to register cases of gender-based violence, including occasionally rape cases. These groups reported that police often preferred to use mediation rather than criminal investigation to resolve conflicts. In October 2019 allegations of rape against Speaker of Federal Parliament Krishna Bahadur Mahara led to his resignation at the request of Prime Minister Oli and the ruling Nepal Communist Party. On February 16, the Kathmandu District Court acquitted Mahara due to lack of evidence.
Domestic violence against women and girls remained a serious problem. NGOs reported that violence against women and girls, including early and forced marriage, was one of the major factors responsible for women’s relatively poor health, livelihood insecurity, and inadequate social mobilization and contributed to intergenerational poverty. The law allows for settling complaints of domestic violence through mediation with an emphasis on reconciliation. Authorities usually pursued prosecution under the act only when mediation failed.
The Nepal Police had women’s cells staffed by female officers in each of the country’s 77 districts to make it easier for women and girls to report crimes to police. According to Women, Children and Senior Citizens Service Directors, all 233 women’s cells across the country located in all 77 districts were in operation. 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 guidance was difficult to implement outside of the women’s cells due to entrenched discriminatory attitudes.
The government maintained 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 gender-based violence. Gender experts said the service centers have improved coordination among police, the NHRC, National Women’s Commission, chief district officers, local authorities, community mediation centers, and NGOs working to address violence against women and girls.
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. The criminal code makes the practice of paying dowries illegal and imposes fines, prison sentences of up to three years, or both. The legislation also criminalizes violence committed against one’s spouse in connection to a dowry, imposing substantial fines, prison sentences of up to five years, or both. Additionally, the law 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, according to NGOs, dowries remained common, especially in the Terai region. Government agencies documented incidents of dowry-related violence and forced marriage, recommended interventions, and occasionally rescued victims and offered them rehabilitation services.
Traditional beliefs about witchcraft negatively affected rural women, especially widows, the elderly, persons of low economic status, or members of the Dalit caste, despite a law specifically criminalizing discrimination and violence against those accused of witchcraft. There were no reported prosecutions under the law. Media and NGOs reported some cases of violence against alleged witches, and civil society organizations raised public awareness of the problem.
The law criminalizes acid attacks. INSEC documented three acid attacks from January to September.
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 livestock sheds) continued to be a serious problem despite a 2005 Supreme Court decision outlawing the practice and 2008 guidelines from the Ministry of Women, Children, and Social Welfare against the practice. In 2018 a law that formally criminalized the practice went into effect; it stipulates a punishment of up to three months’ imprisonment, a token fine, or both. Some local officials implemented various efforts to eliminate chhaupadi, including education campaigns and physical destruction of sheds, but stigma and tradition maintained the practice, particularly in rural western districts, where women periodically died from exposure to the elements. According to news reports, after antichhaupadi campaigns destroyed chhaupadi huts, family members, often mothers in law, still forced women and girls to remain isolated. In some cases, women and girls in rural areas resorted to sleeping in sheds, animal pens, or caves throughout both the winter and monsoon season.
Sexual Harassment: The law allows the top administrative official in a district to impose up to six months imprisonment, a fine, 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. AF reported an incident where three women were sexually harassed by police after being arrested for drinking and driving. According to the women, police called them prostitutes, used obscene language, and groped their breasts.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals generally could decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and access the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Women who became pregnant outside of marriage, especially while working abroad, faced considerable social stigma. Although illegal, child marriage remained prevalent, especially in rural areas, and many girls faced social pressure to have children before being emotionally ready and before their bodies were able to bear children safely. Contraception was available to both men and women. According to the latest UNICEF-sponsored Nepal Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (NMICS) conducted in 2019, 44 percent of married women used a modern contraceptive method and 2.5 percent used a traditional method. The 2019 survey indicated that 24.7 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.
The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for sexual violence survivors. Victims of sexual violence had access to sexual and reproductive health services in government hospitals and there were one-stop crisis management centers in each of the 17 districts. Hospitals in the Kathmandu Valley also provide sexual and reproductive health services for victims of physical and sexual violence.
According to the World Health Organization, the maternal mortality rate in 2017 was 186 deaths per 100,000 live births, down from 236 deaths in 2015. Skilled birth attendants assisted in 77 percent of deliveries according to the NMICS compared with 56 percent in 2014. The NMICS reported 95 percent of women received antenatal care services and 89 percent were attended at least once by skilled health personnel. According to the 2015 Health Facility Survey, services for the management of sexually transmitted infections were available in 74 percent of facilities countrywide. Normal childbirth delivery services were available in about half of facilities countrywide, but in only 33 percent of facilities in the Terai region in the south of the country.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: Although the law provides protection, women faced systemic discrimination, including in employment (see section 7.d.) and especially in rural areas. Dalit women in particular faced gender and caste discrimination. 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; the government did not take sufficient measures to enforce these provisions.
The law contains discriminatory provisions. For example, the law on property rights favors men in land tenancy and the division of family property. 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 women to convey citizenship to their children independent of the citizenship of the child’s father and has no specific provision for naturalization of foreign husbands married to citizen wives.
For women and girls to obtain citizenship by descent for themselves, regulations require a married woman to submit a formal attestation from her husband, father, or husband’s family (if widowed) that she qualifies for citizenship and has his or their permission to receive it. This requirement makes a woman’s right to citizenship contingent on her father’s or husband’s cooperation. In many cases husbands refused to provide their wives this attestation. Preventing women from obtaining citizenship documentation precludes their access to the courts and thus their ability to make legal claims to land and other property, which permits the husband or male relatives free to stake their own claims.
The government recognized 59 ethnic and caste groups as indigenous nationalities, comprising approximately 36 percent of the population. Although some communities were comparatively privileged, many faced unequal access to government resources and political institutions and linguistic, religious, and cultural discrimination.
On July 18, Media and NGOs reported that Chitwan National Park authority workers burned two houses and used an elephant to destroy eight others from a Chepang community within the park’s buffer zone. The Ministry of Forests and Environment began an investigation after human rights groups and media criticized the evictions, which occurred during the COVID-19 lockdown and monsoon season. The NHRC was also investigating the incident.