Almost one year ago, in January 2021, the Government of Nepal updated the country’s rape law. The changes were incomplete, partly because agreed revisions like widening the definition to include men and boys as victims were deleted at the last minute, but it was an improvement.
Changes that were agreed included increasing jail time for those found guilty and criminalizing any attempts to ‘settle’ a rape case outside of the courts, which is a regular occurrence.
Unfortunately, the revisions were made using an ordinance, which is the government’s way of passing a law without getting parliamentary approval. And at some point even an ordinance needs to be agreed by members of parliament. The deadline for approving the rape ordinance was September and because a new government was then in power, it didn’t happen. As a result, those positive changes lapsed, and the rape law reverted to the previous version.
One expert told me recently that there are no signs now that the current government has made updating the law a priority
One expert, advocate Indu Tuladhar, told me recently that there are no signs now that the current government has made updating the law a priority. (You can hear an interview with Tuldadhar in the current episode of the Nepal Now podcast).
On top of this bad news, a recent article in Nepali Times reveals that even existing laws often fail rape survivors. Focused on Kailali district in Nepal’s far west, the reporter found that “more than half the rape cases that were closed between 16 July-5 September 2021 had verdicts in favour of the accused. All in all, 198 rape cases were registered at the Kailali District Court last year alone, of which 120 were closed, and 60% (72 cases) acquitted the alleged perpetrators.”
Many reasons for failed prosecutions
The article offers many reasons for the failed prosecutions, including societal pressure on women and girls (and their families) to keep quiet about such ‘shameful’ incidents, which often leads to cases being lodged days or weeks after an incident, which can then result in evidence being destroyed and provide sufficient time for the accused to gather their own evidence or otherwise influence the prosecution.
The article quotes advocate Renu Pradhan Shrestha — “No one wants to be raped but when people in the judiciary handle and discuss it as something normal, turn hostile towards the victims, the accused walk free.”
Despite the law’s many faults, Tuladhar says it is important to resist pressure to quickly update it. Instead, the government must lead a broad consultation with experts and the general public so that the new version is updated comprehensively. I hope that someone is laying the groundwork today for that process to begin.