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 law prohibits interference with a victim’s ability to file a complaint, including through coercion, threat, or force, and the law also prohibited mediation as an alternative to legal action, with a punishment of up to three year’s imprisonment and a fine. If the perpetrator of such coercion or threats is someone holding a public position, he or she will be imprisoned for an additional six months. The law imposes a fine for rape, which should be provided to the survivor as compensation. It also mandates recording the testimony of the survivor when the initial charges are filed at the court to prevent the survivor from later refusing to testify due to coercion or social pressure. The country’s definition of rape does not include male survivors. Male survivors may file a complaint under the ‘unnatural’ sexual offense penal code; the highest punishment is up to three years’ imprisonment and a fine.
Police and the courts were responsive in most cases when rape was reported, although stigma and societal pressure make it difficult for rape victims to secure justice. Government and NGO contacts all report increases in the number of rape and attempted rape cases during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In May 2020 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 ($1,680) 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 November 2020, the Butwal High Court released Bhar’s mother and aunt on bail. Bhar remains in police custody and the case is pending trial in Rupandehi District Court.
Human rights activists expressed concern that police outside of Kathmandu 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. In February 2020, the Kathmandu District Court acquitted Mahara due to lack of evidence after the victim recanted her story, allegedly due to threats. A doctor also questioned her credibility due to the influence of alcohol and history of taking medication for depression. On July 27, the Patan High Court upheld the Kathmandu District Court’s February 2020 decision.
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, observers reported 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 women or oppression of women based on religious, social, or cultural traditions and gives victims the right to compensation. The penal code makes the practice of paying dowries illegal and imposes fines, prison sentences of up to three years, or both. The law 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, and members of the Dalit caste, despite a law specifically criminalizing discrimination and violence against those accused of witchcraft. In fiscal year 2020-21, the Nepal Police registered 61 cases of witchcraft accusations and subsequent torture, a 74 percent increase over the prior year.
The law criminalizes acid attacks and imposes strong penalties against perpetrators; it also regulates the sale of acids.
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. The law 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 sometimes 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. Some women and girls in rural areas resorted to sleeping in sheds, animal pens, or caves throughout the winter and the 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 inadequate, and the law does not cover the informal sector, where sexual harassment is most common.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. 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, although cultural norms impeded access for adolescents and single women, and some were denied services by individual health workers.
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, including emergency contraception, psychosocial counseling, 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 survivors 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 to 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.
Discrimination: 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 to stake their own claims.
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 to and authority over the estate of their deceased husbands; the government did not take sufficient measures to enforce these provisions.
Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination
Caste-based discrimination is illegal, and the government outlawed the public shunning of or violence against Dalits and tried to protect the rights of other disadvantaged castes. The constitution prohibits the practice of untouchability and stipulates special legal protections for Dalits in education, health care, and housing. It also establishes the National Dalit Commission as a constitutional body to strengthen protections for and promote the rights of Dalits. Dalit rights activists maintained that the laws against discrimination were too general and did not explicitly protecting Dalits. They said most cases go unreported, and those that are reported rarely result in official action. In May 2020, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights condemned attacks against Dalit minorities and noted that impunity for caste-based discrimination and violence remained prevalent in the country.
The law provides that each community shall have the right “to preserve and promote its language, script, and culture” and to operate schools at the primary level in its native language. The government generally upheld these provisions. More than 125 caste and ethnic groups, some of which are considered indigenous nationalities, speak more than 120 different languages.
Discrimination against lower castes and some ethnic groups, including in employment (see section 7.d.), was widespread and especially common in the Terai region and in rural areas. According to the Nepal National Dalit Social Welfare Organization, government progress in reducing discrimination remained limited in rural areas.
On June 15, television presenter, journalist, and human rights activist Rupa Sunar was denied an apartment based on her caste; a landlord refused to rent an apartment to Sunar because she was Dalit. According to human rights NGOs, the police were reluctant to register a case under the Caste-Based Discrimination and Untouchability (Offense and Punishment) Act, 2011. The case was filed on June 17 and police arrested the landlord on June 20. The landlord was released without bail on June 23, with the case to be heard by a court at an undetermined future date.
In May 2020, six youth, including four Dalits, were killed in what activists characterized as the most violent attack on Dalits in the modern history of the country. Nawaraj Bishwokarma and a group of friends were attacked by a mob of villagers, including the local ward chair Dambar Malla, when he tried to elope with his Chhetri caste girlfriend. According to survivors of the attack and some local officials, villagers chased the young men to a nearby riverbank, beat them to death with stones, sharp weapons, and pieces of wood, and threw their bodies in the river. The Ministry of Home Affairs and House of Representatives formed committees to investigate the incident, and the NHRC sent a team to investigate. As of mid-September, 34 accused persons were arrested. Authorities released 11 of these persons, including the mother of the girl, who was released on bail in June 2020. A total of 23 accused currently remain in police custody and the Rukum District Court is collecting statements from witnesses as of January 2022. The next hearing is scheduled for February 11, 2022.
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 individuals faced unequal access to government resources and political institutions and linguistic, religious, and cultural discrimination. Activists report that indigenous groups lack adequate protections and risk losing access to their lands and territories due to encroachment from mining, hydropower, and real estate companies.
Birth Registration: Constitutional provisions, laws, and regulations governing citizenship discriminated by the gender of the parent, which contributed to statelessness (see section 2.g.). There was no difference in birth registration policies and procedures based on the sex of the child.
The constitution states that citizenship derives from one citizen parent, but also stipulates that a child born to a citizen mother and a noncitizen father may obtain citizenship only through naturalization. In some cases, mothers faced extreme difficulties in securing citizenship papers for children of citizen parents, even when the mother possessed citizenship documents, except in cases in which the child’s father supported the application.
The constitution states that the children of unidentified fathers may obtain citizenship through their mothers, but if it is later determined that the father is a foreign citizen, the child will lose citizenship by descent but be eligible for naturalization. Many single women faced difficulties registering their children as citizens by descent. The Supreme Court ruled in 2017 that government authorities must not deny the registration for birth and citizenship of children of citizen mothers and fathers who cannot be traced. According to human rights lawyers, although this provision applies to the children of single mothers, including rape and trafficking victims, it does not address situations in which the identity of a child’s father is known but he refuses to acknowledge paternity. The legal and practical restrictions on transferring citizenship imposed hardships on children whose fathers were deceased, had abandoned the family, or (as was increasingly common) departed the country to work abroad.
Naturalization is subject to state discretion. Although they lacked specific data, human rights lawyers reported that the government has processed few applications for naturalization of children in recent years.
Education: The constitution makes basic primary education free and compulsory nationwide. The law divides the education system into basic education (early childhood development and grades one to eight), which is free and compulsory, and secondary education (grades nine to 12), which is free but not compulsory. The government reported that during the 2020 school year, 94.7 percent of school-age children attended primary schools with gender parity.
Some children, particularly girls, face barriers to accessing education due to lack of sanitation facilities, child marriage, geographic distance, costs associated with schooling, household chores, and lack of parental support. Countrywide, nearly a third of schools lack separate toilet facilities for girls, which can deter them from attending school, especially when they are menstruating. Barriers for attending school for school-age boys include pressure to find employment, migration to work outside the country, and problems with drugs and alcohol. Children with disabilities face additional barriers to accessing education, including denial of school admission. Children are required to attend school only up to age 13; this standard makes children aged 13 and older vulnerable to child labor despite not being legally permitted to work.
Medical Care: The government provided basic health care without cost to children and adults, although quality and accessibility varied. Parental discrimination against girls often resulted in impoverished parents giving priority to their sons when seeking medical services.
Child Abuse: Violence against children, including sexual abuse, was reportedly widespread. NGOs stated that such reports have increased in part due to greater awareness, but no reliable estimates of its incidence exist. The government has some mechanisms to respond to child abuse and violence against children, such as special hotlines and the National Child Rights Council.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law prohibits marriage for both boys and girls before the age of 20, but the country has a high rate of child marriage and childbearing among girls. According to UNICEF, nearly a third of young women ages 20-24 reported they were married by the age of 18, and 7.9 percent by age 15.
Social, economic, and cultural values promoted the practice of early and forced marriages, which was especially common in the Dalit and Madhesi communities. The law sets penalties for violations according to the age of the girls involved in child marriage. The penalty includes both a prison sentence and fine, with the fees collected going to the girl involved. The law provides that the government must act whenever a case of child marriage is filed with authorities. Additionally, the practice of early and forced marriage limited girls’ access to education and increased their susceptibility to domestic violence and sexual abuse, including sex trafficking.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: Commercial sexual exploitation of children remained a serious problem, according to NGOs. There were reports of boys and girls living on the streets and exploited for child sex trafficking, including by tourists, and of underage girls employed in dance bars, massage parlors, and cabin restaurants (sometimes fronts for brothels). Enforcement was generally weak due to limited police capacity and investigative efforts, and police sometimes arrested girls in commercial sexual exploitation. The minimum age for consensual sex is 18 years.
There is no specific law against child pornography, but the law stipulates that no person can involve or use a child for an immoral profession, and photographs cannot be taken or distributed for the purpose of engaging a child in an immoral profession. Additionally, photographs that tarnish the character of the child may not be published, exhibited, or distributed.
Displaced Children: Many children remained displaced due to the 2015 earthquake and its aftershocks (see section 2.e.). The government did not have comprehensive data on children affected by the decade-long Maoist conflict, including the original number of internally displaced and the number who remained displaced.
Institutionalized Children: Abuse, including sexual abuse, and mistreatment in orphanages and children’s homes reportedly was common. An NGO working in this field estimated that approximately one-third of registered children’s homes met the minimum legal standards of operation, but there was no reliable data on the many unregistered homes. NGOs reported some children in the institutions were forced to beg. The NGO also reported no significant change in the level or degree of abuse of children compared to previous years. Specific information on the status and conditions of children with disabilities who were institutionalized was not available.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
There was a small Jewish population in the country and no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Persons with Disabilities
The constitution and law prohibit discrimination based on disability or physical condition and contain additional specific rights for persons with disabilities. These include the right to free higher education for all citizens with physical disabilities who are “financially poor” and the provision of accessible instructional materials and curricula for persons with vision disabilities. NGOs report that a few public buildings, roads, and schools had become accessible, but most are still inaccessible.
The government provides services for persons with physical and mental disabilities, including a monthly stipend, shelters, and appointing one social welfare worker in each of 753 local governments. The law provides that persons with disabilities have equal access to education, health, employment, public physical infrastructure, transportation, and information and communication services. The government implementation of laws and regulations to improve rights and benefits for persons with disabilities, although improved, still was not fully effective. For example, books printed in braille were not available for students at all grade levels, and free higher education was not uniformly available to all interested persons with disabilities.
The government provided monthly social security allowances for persons with disabilities of 3,990 rupees ($34) for those categorized as “profoundly” disabled, and 2128 rupees ($18) for “severely” disabled persons. The law states that other persons with disabilities should receive allowances based on the availability of funds and the degree of disability. Three provincial governments funded sign language interpreters in 20 districts to assist deaf and hard-of-hearing persons in obtaining government services.
The Ministry of Women, Children, and Senior Citizens was responsible for the protection of persons with disabilities. The government does not report the percentage of students with disabilities who attend schools. The country has 380 resource classrooms for students with disabilities, 33 special education schools, and 23 integrated schools. The number of students enrolled was low compared to the number of children without disabilities. Compared with primary school attendance, relatively few children with disabilities attended higher levels of education, largely due to accessibility problems, school locations, and financial burdens on parents. Although abuse of children with disabilities reportedly occurred in schools, no reports of such incidents were filed in the courts or with the relevant agencies during the year. The Ministry of Women, Children, and Senior Citizens reported that most of the 753 municipalities have allocated funding to minority and vulnerable groups, including persons with disabilities, under the new federal system. Most persons with disabilities had to rely almost exclusively on family members for assistance.
There are no restrictions on the rights of persons with disabilities to vote and participate in civic affairs or to access the judicial system. According to the Ministry of Women, Children, and Senior Citizens, however, there were obstacles in exercising these rights, especially the lack of accessibility to public facilities.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Societal discrimination and stigma against persons with HIV and those at high risk of HIV remains common, according to NGOs. There was no official discrimination against persons in high-risk groups that could spread HIV or AIDS. Most health care facilities run by government and NGOs provide HIV services to HIV-infected and affected populations.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
LGBTQI+ rights groups reported that gender and sexual minorities faced harassment from police during the year. On January 21, police reportedly assaulted and arrested 16 third gender (LGBTQI+) commercial sex workers at a bus park in the Gongabu area of Kathmandu. Media reported that the incident began when a man groped and assaulted a transgender woman. Other members from the LGBTQI+ community intervened and the police arrived, but rather than arrest the man, they beat the women with rifle butts, batons, and sticks. According a prominent LGBTQI+ rights organization, multiple third gender persons sustained injuries and two needed stitches.
No laws criminalize same-sex sexual activity, and LGBTQI+ persons actively advocated for their rights. The constitution contains provisions outlining protections for LGBTQI+ persons, but LGBTQI+ activists continued to press for further legislation to increase protections for gender and sexual minorities.
While the government does not have coercive medical practices targeting LGBTQI+ individuals, many districts require gender-affirming surgery or an application to the Nepal Medical Council, which requires surgical interventions and certification from the hospital that performed the procedure to change gender markers on identity documents.
According to local LGBTQI+ advocacy groups, the government did not provide equal opportunities for LGBTQI+ persons in education, health care, or employment (see section 7.d.). LGBTQI+ activists reported challenges obtaining COVID-19 vaccines and relief because their name and appearance did not match their citizenship documents. Advocacy groups stated that some LGBTQI+ persons faced difficulties in registering for citizenship, particularly in rural areas.
Although several LGBTQI+ candidates ran for office in local elections in recent years, LGBTQI+ activists noted that election authorities prevented one person in 2017 who self-identified as third gender from registering as a candidate for vice mayor in a rural municipality of Myagdi district, Gandaki Province because electoral quotas required the individual’s party to register a “female” candidate for the position; the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the government. Separately, LGBTQI+ activists stated that some transgender persons refrained from voting due to harassment or social scorn because transgender persons were forced to stand in lines reflecting the gender on their citizenship documents, regardless of whether they had changed gender in practice.
According to LGBTQI+ rights NGOs, there were some instances of harassment and abuse of LGBTQI+ persons by private citizens and government, especially in rural areas.