Kathmandu: In recent times, rape survivors are coming out publicly demanding justice with the stories of their traumatic experiences and bitter past filled with agony and denial of justice. But as most culprits of sexual violence happen to be the relatives and neighbors of the survivors, survivors really have to struggle for justice or suffer in silence under the existing laws, according to activists and stakeholders.
Niharika Rajput, an unmarried teen mom, recently took to a hunger strike at Basantapur, Kathmandu demanding action against her alleged rapist Shiva Raj Shrestha, who was her friend’s brother. She had already sought justice in Dhanusa District Court and Janakpur High Court but to no avail. She broke her hunger strike following a five-point deal with the government on June 16.
Like Rajput, many rape survivors have fought–even taken to the streets–for justice, but the government has repeatedly failed to deliver it.
According to the Nepal Police data, six rape cases are registered every day in Nepal. And, at least 10,111 rape cases were reported across Nepal from 2017 to 2022.
Also, according to the data, the largest number of the culprits are the survivors’ own relatives, neighbors or people familiar to them—grandfather (65), father (208), uncle (178), male friends (466), in-laws (111) and brother (199), and neighbors (3,245).
Harrowingly, a large number of survivors are minors.
The laws in place have strict punishment provisions against rape perpetrators. But there are flaws as well. Section 219 (2) of the National Penal Code states, “Where a man has sexual intercourse with a woman without her consent or with a girl child below eighteen years of age even with her consent, the man shall be considered to commit rape on such woman or girl child.” This provision recognizes only women or girls as rape survivors and men as offenders. The explanation of the section further states, “The penetration of the penis into anus or mouth, penetration of penis, to any extent, into anus, mouth or vagina, insertion of any object other than penis into vagina shall also be considered to be rape.”
The National Penal (Code) Act (2017) prescribes different provisions for imprisoning the perpetrator based on the age of the survivor and offers additional punishment where there are aggravating circumstances. The highest degree of punishment is imprisonment for life in cases where there has been murder after the rape and when there is a sexual relationship between the natural mother and her natural son or between the natural father and his natural daughter. Section 219 (3) of the National Penal (Code) Act 2017 prescribes the following punishment:
However, despite having strict laws on the paper, it is evident that the country’s mechanism is as-yet-inefficient to address this critical issue with utmost urgency. And, activists and stakeholders say that the challenges become more intense in rape cases having relatives and neighbors as culprits.
“As sexual violence and rape’s culprits mostly are relatives and neighbors, only Nepal’s legal process can’t facilitate justice to the survivors,” said Kamala Kumari Parajuli, chair of the National Women Commission. Even though the survivor files a case against the perpetrator, she says, the case is taken down given the harassment, mental torture, and abuse the survivor faces over time. “It is the biggest challenge. Cases involving strangers are taken into custody but the scenario is different if the culprit is a relative. survivors often step back.”
Hima Bista, for her part, says that familiar and known people being the culprits is not something new. “They were the culprits in the past. The only difference is that now survivors are gradually coming out demanding justice,” she said. According to her, rape cases involving family members and relatives are awfully challenging because survivors don’t file the case most of the time due to a lack of confidence and fear of not being believed.
Bista adds that the legal process regarding rape is unstructured. “The lengthy legal process causes trauma to survivors and eventually makes them hostile,” she said.