Creating and enforcing laws in a newly formed democracy is a seemingly impossible task. A new government, not yet trusted, is expected to create a framework for enforcing order in a country still in a state of disarray. In Nepal, the result is laws that provide protection to marginalized groups in theory, but that are often times not implemented.
This is most evident in laws that affect women, including those regarding cases of domestic violence. Three weeks ago, the first law specific to domestic violence was passed in parliament. It is not yet published in English so I haven’t been able to look over it myself, but I have heard it is a huge success for women’s rights groups. Until then, there were laws that provided protection to victims of domestic violence. However, these provisions existed under separate laws regarding criminal activity. They are now consolidated into one domestic violence law.
The new law, however, does not include protection for women who have been victims of marital rape. This law, enacted after a Supreme Court decision, falls under a separate law. The Forum for Women’s Law and Development, an organization I met with this past week, represented the plaintiff in the deciding case that made marital rape illegal. Bimala Khadka, an advocate at the organization, estimates that 70 percent of all criminal cases in Nepal have to do with domestic violence. She said that violence against women in Nepal is “easily taken,” but that the government is trying to set up resources that will help victims. The new budget, which passed recently, includes funding to create women’s shelters for victims of domestic violence in every single district in Nepal. Currently, a few shelters run by NGOs exist.
There is one loophole in the law: women can only file a case against their husbands. In other words, a boyfriend, lover, or any other man in her life is protected from prosecution. It also means that in order to file charges against her husband, she must prove the marriage by means of a legal document. This is a challenge that Uma K.C., a woman I interviewed on Friday, is currently facing. Her story is extremely sad and I will be posting my interview with her in a few days. But her story, like many others in Nepal, show that the law and order system can be corrupt, making bribes to drop charges or to suggest a defendant has “disappeared” commonplace.
The new domestic violence law has penalties of at least six months, with a maximum sentence of ten years, for men who beat their wives. Marital rape carries a sentence of two to three years in jail.
Bimala said most cases of abuse do not involve guns, but domestic weapons including a traditional Nepali knife, kukri. She said obtaining a licensed gun in Nepal is extremely difficult. I have yet to learn if the domestic violence law mentions specific weapons, including small arms.
Please see some highlights from my interview with her below.
Posted By Isha Mehmood
Posted Jul 20th, 2009