By Rojina Luintel
The debate on insufficient Rape laws in Nepal has emerged as a result of the increase in sexual crimes in the country. According to Nepal Police, last year there were around 6259 attempted rape cases out of which only 1260 were convicted. Also, these numbers are the cases that were reported, whilst many still go unreported. The supreme court had directed the Nepal government to amend laws to adequately expand the then 35 days statute of limitation in the year 2008. The supreme court took the victim's psychological status and time required for investigation into consideration. However, the 365 days statute of limitation that remains in the penal code of 2017 is inadequate and continues to provide no remedy for the victims who file the case beyond the specified days.
Recently, there was a re-ignition of the “me too” movement in Nepal, when a woman took a brave move of speaking out of a horrifying incident that she endured as a minor. She voiced what she endured through a Tik Tok video which went viral where she stated that due to this limitation, she might not be able to file a complaint. She also explained that just because she chose to speak about the incident after 8 years doesn’t make her any less of a victim. This incident made its way to the house of representative, where the Nepali Congress Leader Mr. Gagan Thapa stated that it is now high time that these laws are amended. Similarly, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s wife, Arzu Rana Deuba has also asked for the review of such insufficient law. This incident highlighted Nepal's law failing to adequately protect the victims as the statute of limitations in Nepal is also just a year, which means that victims have up to 365 days to file a complaint.
This limitation is one of the shortest in south Asia and many other countries in the region have already overcome the statute of limitation for rape cases altogether. Hence, social activists have taken to streets to scrap this limitation in Nepal as well. There is a reduction in the statute of limitation to three months when such an offense is committed against a person who is kidnapped or taken hostage.
The victims often take time to come forward, mainly because of the shame and trauma associated with such an incident. This has become the biggest barrier for the women to come forward and fight for justice. On top of that, the statute limitation only puts burden on the victims and in most cases provides the culprits with impunity. Beside the rape law, the social consequences that women must face is another barrier which stops women to fight for justice. The statute of limitation on rape does not consider the fear and stigma faced by the victims and doesn’t take it as a barrier for the women delaying their fight for justice.
The parliamentary Women and Social Committee organized an informal discussion where different law makers had demanded the government to amend the existing laws to remove the statute of limitations to register rape cases. Six female lawyers filed a petition on May 24, at the Supreme Court demanding the removal of this statute of limitations on rape. These lawmakers have urged the Nepal Government to urgently work for the amendment of the law which is highly restrictive and unfair on the victims.
Equality now in collaboration with Forum for Women Law and Development (FWLD) organized a discussion with Members of Parliament on May 29, which was chaired by the President of Social Committee of the House of Representatives
The FWLD presented the reforms required to sexual violence laws in Nepal, including:
- eliminating the statute of limitations.
- expanding the definition of rape.
- increasing the penalty for marital rape.
As pointed out by different international bodies, this limitation imposed by the Nepal government violates the international human right standards. Not just the statue limitation on rape but there are other provision relating to sexual violence that do not adhere to the international human rights standards. In the penal code, the definition of rape is very narrow. It recognizes rape committed by men against women or girls, but not against other genders. Accessing justice becomes next to impossible due to this for men, boys, and victims of diverse gender identities.
To conclude, even though the discussion about the amendments have reached the house of representatives and debate on the insufficient rape laws is re-ignited, the amendment of such laws takes longer time. The time-consuming process of these amendments will benefit the culprits with impunity and are unfair on the victims. This requires the Nepal government to review its legislation and adhere to the new laws with international human right standards so that the victims don’t have to face injustice time and again. Similarly, the Nepal Government ensures prompt investigation and prosecution of sexual violence cases. This should be done simultaneously by providing reparation and proper protection to the victims during the investigation and the trial.