The state of sex crimes in Nepal
The alleged rape and extortion of a then-underage beauty pageant contestant seven years ago sparked an outcry. Demonstrations took place in Kathmandu and in cities in Nepal, demanding justice for women. There was also a renewed call for the removal of the statute of limitations in rape and sexual assault cases.
According to Section 229 (2) of the National Penal Code of Nepal, no case shall be brought for cases of rape, attempted rape, marital rape, child sexual abuse and sexual harassment after one year of committing such an offense and the expiry of three months from the knowledge of the commission of this offence.
This delay, according to many, has prevented many victims of rape and sexual assault from obtaining justice, while allowing the perpetrators to flee.
Police arrested the alleged organizer of the beauty pageant following pressure from the streets and parliament. Yet Nepalese girls and women continue to be at risk and many may already be victims of sexual assault and rape.
In the last fiscal year alone, a total of 2,532 rape complaints, 735 attempted rapes, 36 unnatural sex and 281 child sexual abuse complaints were filed across the country. But the police have no data on the number of perpetrators arrested. Over the past 25 years, there have been 17,170 cases of rape and 6,045 cases of complaints of attempted rape.
Article 219 (2) of the National Penal Code defines rape as a man having sexual intercourse with a woman without her consent or with a girl under 18 even with her consent. This provision recognizes only women or girls as victims of rape and men as perpetrators.
The same section further specifies penile penetration of the anus, mouth or vagina and penetration of an object into the vagina as constituting rape. The definition of rape in Nepal is not gender inclusive and does not include men, underage men or non-binary gender as victims.
Article 219 (4) of the Penal Code provides for a maximum penalty of one year for martial rape. The penalty for raping an adult woman is seven to ten years.
This code differentiates between marital rape and rape, and attempts to establish that marital rape is less of a crime because it involves the husband as the perpetrator. The code does not define unnatural sex.
The Sexual Offenses chapter in the National Penal Code provides for various penalties depending on the age of the victim, but does not take into account the degree of sexual assault.
This basis of punishment underestimates the impact of the crime on the victims, leading perpetrators to believe that their crime is not serious.
Proactive justice is a must
Lawyer and President of Himal Innovative Development and Research
The main reason behind gender-based violence is the disproportionate power relations between perpetrators and victims. The same goes for access to justice. There is no timely justice, sometimes due to the victim’s reluctance to come forward early enough and sometimes due to a lack of interest from judicial authorities.
A number of laws also need to be changed. The current statute of limitations does not take into account the mental trauma of rape victims, who could take a long time to press charges. This requires immediate amendment. Our definition of rape is still conservative. It should be amended to incorporate men, children and non-binary gender and remove all gender-exclusive terms.
The penalty for marital rape is less severe than that for rape. It must be uniform regardless of marital status. Also, there should be a uniform sentence rather than a sentence based on the age of the victim – any sentence should instead be based on the seriousness of the crime. What we need is a radical overhaul of our laws.