Online violence against women in Nepal on the riseNearly 70 percent of the 353 cases filed at the cybercrime bureau in the last two months were online abuse directed towards women.
Last August, Rita Khadka’s Facebook account was hacked. She found out about it only when her friends told her about the obscene images that were being shared from her account. She filed a complaint at Nepal Police’s cybercrime bureau immediately and removed the posts from her account. But hundreds of her friends and family members had already seen the posts by then.
Police were able to track the perpetrator, identified as Ujjwol Ghimire, who was arrested and later released on bail.
Less than a week ago, another woman, Anita Shrestha, was subjected to similar harassment when she received obscene images and messages from the account of a person called Robin Thapa.
Shrestha and Khadka, whose names have been changed to protect their privacy, are among the increasing number of women facing online violence and harassment in Nepal. In the last two months, nearly 70 percent of the 353 cases filed at the cybercrime bureau were related to some form of online abuse directed towards women.
According to the bureau, of the 5,574 cases filed at the cybercrime bureau since 2016, which has seen a drastic rise year on year, a majority of them are about online abuse faced by women.
“In Shrestha’s case, our investigation found that a person named Ram Sharan Sapkota had opened a fake ID to extort money from her using her images,” said Inspector Bishnu BK at the cybercrime bureau. The case is under investigation.
The police say increased internet access has led to a greater misuse of social networking sites, resulting in cybercrimes directed towards women. Police investigations have found women are often blackmailed by their former partners, especially when couples in relationships share their passwords. This blackmail is mostly done by photoshopping women’s images. Some men also tend to misuse women’s pictures to create new accounts to trick other men.
According to Senior Superintendent of Police Nabinda Aryal, a lot of people don’t even realise they are victims of some form of cybercrime. “Cybercrime isn’t just limited to the misuse of, and harassment through, social media; everything from the sale of illegal items, stalking and cyber-bullying falls under this category,” said Aryal.
In the wake of rising cases of cybercrime, Nepal Police says it has been organising awareness programmes in schools and colleges regarding safe internet use as well as the consequences of online violence directed towards women and children.
“We have been launching awareness programmes at various schools and colleges to let youngsters know about the crime and its consequences,” said Aryal. “We have organised such programmes in all seven provinces.”
Nepal doesn’t yet have laws to deal with cybercrimes, so all kinds of crime taking place in the online space are handled under the Electronic Transaction Act, which has a provision of a jail term up to five years or a fine up to Rs20,000.
But civil liberties organisations like Freedom Forum have repeatedly raised concerns over authorities using the Electronic Transaction Act to aggressively pursue journalists and other individuals critical of the government and powerful individuals.
Realising there is a lack of awareness among people, especially youngsters, Kumar Abhinav of Saptari decided to run such programmes in schools and colleges in Kathmandu.
Abhinav, 23, who completed his engineering course from India, said in the last two months he has visited half a dozen schools and colleges in the Capital to share knowledge on cybersecurity.
"Cybersecurity has not been given much priority in the country—neither by the government nor by any private organisation," said Abhinav. "Once I asked participants at one of my sessions where they would go to file complaints regarding cybercrimes, and they barely knew.”
According to Abhinav, during his interaction with the cyber bureau, he was told that 96 percent of the victims of such cyberbullying are women.