The alleged rape-and-extortion of a then-minor beauty pageant participant seven years ago has ignited a furore. Demonstrations have been held in Kathmandu and in cities across Nepal, demanding justice for the woman. There has also been a renewed call for removal of the statute of limitation in rape and sexual assault cases.
According to Section 229 (2) of the National Penal Code of Nepal, no cases shall be instigated for cases of rape, attempts to rape, marital rape, child sexual abuse, and sexual harassment after one year of commission of such offense and expiry of three months from the knowledge of the commission of such offense.
This time limit, many argue, has prevented many survivors of rape and sexual assault from getting justice, while allowing the perpetrators to get away.
Police have arrested the alleged beauty pageant organizer following pressure from the streets and parliament. Yet Nepali girls and women continue to be unsafe and many of them could already be victims of sexual assault and rape.
In the past fiscal year alone, a total of 2,532 complaints of rape, 735 of attempts to rape, 36 of unnatural intercourse, and 281 complaints of child sexual abuse were filed across the country. But the police have no data on how many of the perpetrators have been arrested. In the past 25 years, there were 17,170 cases of rape and 6,045 cases of attempt to rape complaints.
Section 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 child below the age of 18 even with her consent. This provision recognizes only women or girls as rape victims and men as offenders.
The same section further specifics penile penetration of anus, mouth, or vagina and object penetration of vagina as constituting rape. The definition of rape in Nepal is not gender-inclusive and does not include men, minor males, or non-binary gender as victims.
Section 219 (4) of the Criminal Code provides for a maximum of a year’s punishment for martial rape. The punishment for a rape of an adult woman is seven to ten years.
This code differentiates between marital rape and rape, and tries to establish that marital rape is less of a crime because it involves the husband as a perpetrator. The code doesn’t define unnatural sex.
The chapter under Sexual Offences in National Penal Code provides various punishments based on the victim’s age but disregards the degree of sexual assault.
This basis of punishment underestimates the impact of the crime on victims, making perpetrators believe that their crime is not a big deal.
Proactive justice is a must
Advocate and chairperson of Himal Innovative Development and Research
The main reason behind gender-based violence is disproportional power relations between perpetrators and victims. The same is also seen when it comes to access to justice. There is no timely justice, sometimes due to the victim’s reluctance to report early enough and sometimes due to the justice-delivery authorities’ lack of concern.
A number of laws also need to be amended. The current provision regarding the statute of limitation disregards the mental trauma of rape survivors, who might take some time to file a case. That needs an immediate amendment. Our definition of rape is still conservative. It must be amended to incorporate men, children, and non-binary gender and remove all gender exclusive terms.
The punishment for marital rape is less severe than that for rape. It should be uniform irrespective of marital status. Also, there should be uniform punishment rather than punishment based on the victim’s age—any punishment should rather be based on the crime’s gravity. What we need is a radical overhaul of our laws.