No compromiseAttempt to ‘compromise’ on rape cases is an attack on dignity of women
Public outrage has grown in Nepal after a staggering number of rape cases were reported in various parts of the country in recent weeks. Rape tops the list of crimes against women in Nepal. Data maintained by the Nepal Police shows that the number of rape cases reported is growing each year. At least 5,462 cases of rape were reported across Nepal since the fiscal year 2011/12 to mid-August 2017, the first month of the current fiscal year, according to Nepal Police data. Similarly, a total of 2,425 cases of rape attempts were recorded in the same period. On an average, more than 108 rape cases were formally registered every month.
Rights activists believe that there are many more hidden cases as many women do not dare to report incidents out of fear of public shame and due to fear of further attacks from the perpetrators.
Rights activists and civil society often criticise the way the police and judges respond to cases of rape. They believe that the response to rape cases from concerned authorities is ‘unsafe and insecure’. The justice process accorded to rape victims is neither well-defined, nor dignified. The primary response that rape victims get from police officers, medical professionals and even judges depends on the conscience of the concerned officer or judge who handles the case instead of on the rules.
Victims of rape are subjected to a thorough physical examination, they face insensitive questions from the police personnel, and they suffer from a lack of witness protection, undue delay in proceedings and deliberate harassment. So victims lose the will to fight for justice.
Due to fear, public shame, weak economic conditions, isolation from society and advice from community members and leaders, victims and their families often face pressure to ‘compromise’, ‘mediate’ or sign an ‘agreement’. Such methods are not new in the settling of rape cases in Nepal. However, a cause of worry today is that the police and political leaders who are supposed to provide justice to the victims are openly involved in attempts to settle rape cases in ‘consent’ and without formal criminal proceedings.
Victims of a heinous crime like rape should never be forced to compromise to settle the issue. The idea of agreement provides perpetrators with a means to escape legal action by using their power and money. This idea prolongs rape culture. That is why the idea of ‘agreement’ or ‘compromise’ should be rejected by all concerned stakeholders. Most importantly, the concept of agreement in rape case does not respect the notion that a ‘woman’s body is a woman’s right’.
Need of legal reforms
Recent incidents of rape have generated public demand for stringent legal provisions to punish sex offenders. Many believe that the absence of strict laws is the main reason behind the increasing incidents. Nepal’s rape laws are mentioned in the Civil Code—a set of legal and administrative procedures introduced in 1854. Recently, the parliament has endorsed a new set of laws, which will come into effect this August. Section 18 of the new law has included the provision related to the rapes. Both the old and new laws are guided by a victim’s age and consent.
The government should take action to end the existing scenario of rape culture. The government should respect national laws as well as international instruments. The newly endorsed Nepali constitution has guaranteed equality to all. Further, women’s right are ensured by the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Nepal is a signatory countries to these documents. But commitment alone do not ensure justice. Gender equality essentially calls for actions to end all forms of injustice and discrimination against women.
A society without fear of rape
A feeling of safety is a precondition for a sustainable city. Respect of a woman’s right to live with dignity is essential for a civilised society, and timely delivery of justice is a benchmark for peace and prosperity. The Nepal government must take action to end rape incidents. For this, it is not enough to pay lip service. The government must come up with strategies to safeguard rape victims and ensure an environment where all victims can lodge their case without any fear or intimidation. The government must re-orient the entire system in a manner that respects women’s rights. All stakeholders including major political parties should translate their commitments into action to bring the rise of rape cases to an end.
Lamsal is a young development professional and researcher; views expressed in this article are personal